Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA

PHOTOGRAPH 51

By: Sep. 09, 2022
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Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA

Wednesday 7th September 2022, 8pm, Ensemble Theatre

Rosalind Franklin's largely unrecognized contribution to the understanding of DNA and the men that hindered and betrayed her is explored in Anna Ziegler's PHOTOGRAPH 51. Under Anna Ledwich's direction, this is a powerful piece of theatre that highlights the misogyny of the patriarchal society that prevailed in the 1950's while also forcing an honest examination of the continuing gender imbalance and outdated attitudes in the modern workplace.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA PHOTOGRAPH 51 refers to Rosalind Franklin's (Amber McMahon) fifty-first X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA that formed the key to understanding the structure of DNA. Sadly, scientific history largely diminished Franklin's role in this breakthrough as, following her successful position as a postdoctoral researcher in Laboratorie Central es Services Chimiques de l'Etat in Paris, she was lured to return to England with the promise of the opportunity to lead her own research at King's College London in 1951. Sadly, when she arrived she quickly discovered that she was not getting her own project but rather meant to be the assistant to Maurice Wilkins (Garth Holcombe), an arrogant and socially inept man who refuses to acknowledge her credentials and success while insisting that she use his honorific. While she eventually found an ally in Don Caspar (Jake Speers), a recent PhD recipient who went from regular correspondent to receiving a fellowship to work under her, Franklin's PhD student Raymond Gosling (Gareth Yuen) and Wilkins ultimately betray her, leaking her findings to competing scientists Francis Crick (Robert Jago) and James Watson (Toby Blome) who go on to receive accolades while her name slips to the sidelines of scientific history.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA

On an artfully economic expression of a 1950's college laboratory designed by Emma Vine (set and costume design), Amber McMahon presents a determined Franklin, not willing to have her science diminished because her male colleagues are insecure dinosaurs that are more interested in what she looks like than her scientific achievements. McMahon's nuanced expression expresses so much more than Ziegler's wonderful dialogue, so Franklin's unspoken thoughts are keenly felt. Presented with a naturalness, McMahon ensures that there is a relatability for any woman who has worked in a male dominated field and had to fight to be heard and respected for their professional contributions.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA

As her 'supervisor' Maurice Wilkins, Garth Holcombe captures the essence of an outdated stuffy man used to being able to get away with treating women as lesser. This, paired with his social awkwardness ensures that Wilkins' esteem, if he had any, is diminished as his arrogant behavior is shown. As the PhD student reporting to Franklin, Gareth Yuen ensures that Raymond Gosling is seen as fickle, as his allegiances can be so easily swapped, a trait that Gosling openly admits, further adding to the understanding that as nice and helpful he may seem, he can't really be trusted. As young upstart James Watson, Toby Blome captures the essence of the opportunistic misogynistic scientist who collaborated with Francis Crick. As Crick, Robert Jago presents a similarly unlikable character as the unethical and opportunistic lead scientist who fails to disclose his resumption of DNA research. The only male in the story to be likable is Don Caspar and Jake Speer captures the American PhD student's eagerness to learn from Franklin, showing his respect when he eventually gets the opportunity to work with his idol and eventual friend.

Review: PHOTOGRAPH 51 Shares Rosalind Franklin's Underappreciated Role In The Understanding Of DNA PHOTOGRAPH 51 is an engaging and enlightening work that seeks to correct history while shining a spotlight on the struggle women in science have faced. With the work set in the 1950's it also shows that it wasn't that long ago that Franklin endured the roadblocks to her research and career while also provoking the audience to consider 21st century attitudes to women in science and other traditionally male professions.

https://www.ensemble.com.au/shows/photograph-51/

Photographs: Teniola Komolafe



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