Review of a stage play written by Anna Ziegler
Venue: Noel Coward Theatre, London, UK
Nicole Kidman’s welcome return to the West End stage did not disappoint with a powerful performance playing the role of scientist Rosalind Franklin, who’s pioneering research culminated in the discovery of DNA.
Rosalind was born on July 25, 1920. Her aunt described her as an alarmingly clever girl when she was just 6 years old. She chose to study science at 16 and entered Cambridge University in 1938.
After learning x-ray diffraction techniques she was offered a 3-year research scholarship at King’s College in London to set up an x-ray crystallography unit to research the origins of DNA alongside her new colleague, Maurice Wilkins, played by the excellent Stephen Campbell Moore. Wilkins had already been working with x-ray crystallography at the laboratory, but was on holiday at the time of Rosalind’s arrival. Their relationship began on a bad footing when he returned to find Rosalind whom he, incorrectly, assumed was his new assistant. Her position was made all the more difficult by the post-war sexism towards women who were still regarded as second-class citizens. Nicole Kidman’s intense and articulate portrayal of the highly motivated and intelligent Rosalind was a fine example of an actor at the top of their profession.
The sombre stage set depicting the actual laboratory that was located beneath the quad in the King’s College campus where Rosalind and Wilkins worked provided an intimate and claustrophobic canvas for the unfolding events that were to change the course of history.
In 1952, with the help of student Raymond Gosling, Rosalind took a photograph of crystallised DNA which showed two black lines in the shape of an X that appeared to be linked by lines emanating from its centre. Rosalind refused to accept it was a helix until she had researched more data. She named it Photograph 51 and placed it to one side to continue with further tests.
Wilkins discovered Photo 51 and took it to show his friends James Watson and Francis Crick, played by the energetic Will Attenborough and Edward Bennett, respectively, whom had also been working to resolve the question of DNA. Watson and Crick published Rosalind’s data in 1953 without informing her of its origin and took the credit for themselves.
Rosalind died from cancer in April 1958 at the age of 37. Discovery of the Double Helix earned Watson, Crick and Wilkins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962.