Usually, each time a well known name does a play in the West End everyone is more than overexcited. Yes, there is such a thing. I am part of the generation that grew up with Nicole Kidman’s movies and as soon as the tickets went on sale I got one. Sadly, or not, couldn’t make the press night as I was on holiday. But that wasn’t going to stop me for sure.
Doing a bit of research I managed to find out that she made her Broadway debut in 1998, in David Hare’s “The Blue Room,” a sexual roundelay that featured the lissome actress in a flash of nudity. The play had its world premiere at the Donmar Warehouse, in London. At that time, critic Charles Spencer stated, “It’s pure theatrical Viagra.” More than 15 years later, Nicole Kidman decided to return to the London stage, for a very scientific play this time. Apparently the memory of her biochemist father helped her take the decision of playing a scientist.
Rosalind Franklin was an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer who made contributions to the understanding of the fine molecular structures of DNA. The woman was never given due recognition for her pivotal contribution to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Sadly, her end came sooner than expected and was quite tragic, she passed away at the age of 37 after discovering her ovarian cancer. Later on, in 1962 the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to her colleague Maurice Wilkins and her rival researchers, James Watson and Francis Crick, for the same discovery.
The actual play, even if a moving one, was quite unadventurous and conventional. Both the main character and her rivals were trying to make a point. However, that is life and considering we’ve all been there at a certain point in our lives I am sure we can relate to it. Another thing that made it a bit hard to connect with was the fact that it seemed a bit detached at the beginning and somewhat fragmented. Maybe the technical terms, maybe because the audience needed some time to simply warm up to very objective and rational characters. It was the nature of the environment in which the actual play happened. As tackled issues, Ziegler’s play takes a firm stand regarding sexism and misogyny and they are brought into the public attention with casual easiness.
As in most of Michael Grandage’s plays, the project is led by a star actor. In this case Nicole Kidman delivered big time. The role of the geeky scientist dressed as simple as possible fit her perfectly and seem to emphasize even more her focus is on the inside rather than the outside. She was inquisitive and rough at the edges, but showed us different sides of Franklin as the play progressed. Her confidence on stage is absolute and that can be felt from the first second. She knows she belongs there. She manages to capture that specific dedication scientists usually have and suprises with a very sad story told in a very objective way. As wanted, she stands out and does it beautifully.
“Photograph 51,” directed by Michael Grandage, continues at the Noel Coward Theatre through November 21.