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Sunday
Oct042015

Stage Door: Nicole Kidman in Photograph 51

Stage Door is taking a little trip across the Atlantic, since David is lucky enough to live in London, where TFE deity Nicole Kidman is currently treading the boards in Photograph 51.

Every article announcing Nicole Kidman’s return to the London stage made reference to the infamous review labeling her “pure theatrical Viagra” when she first played in the West End in 1998’s The Blue Room. Seventeen years on, the subject of Photograph 51 could hardly seem more antithetical: Rosalind Franklin’s passion in life is her work, the groundbreaking research into the structure of DNA, her part in which has been forgotten by mainstream history, partially due to her premature death from ovarian cancer before her male peers were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work.

Kidman’s choice of this modern, largely unknown play for her theatrical return was a very conscious one. Director Michael Grandage (who also directed her in upcoming film Genius) revealed that Kidman “said she wanted to play in something that was new and which had a powerful female character in it.”

It’s hearteningly typical of Kidman’s career for her to pursue something in that manner, and even more heartening that playwright Anna Ziegler doesn’t make that the entire drive of the narrative. The constancy of the sexist injustices of Franklin’s career is built into the structure and staging of the play: the five men who make up the rest of the cast often break into narration, discussing Doctor Franklin even as Kidman lingers in the shadows behind, and take up residence in the brick arches at the back of the stage when their characters are inactive, a constant masculine presence in a world where Kidman’s Franklin is, for the audience, the sole woman.

Franklin is a character ideally suited to Kidman’s star image: her frosty demeanour is subtly coloured by self-protective impulses, whether against her own loneliness and insecurity or a reaction to the ingrained sexism of how men treat her. (Plus it’s a chance to show off how she’s refined that English accent since Virginia Woolf.) When Franklin makes a scientific breakthrough – most notably the revelations of helical structure found within the eponymous photograph – Kidman’s star wattage really lights up, ably assisting Ziegler’s words in what might be their most momentous achievement: making scientific discovery legible through art as a subject that is not only involving, but positively inspiring. As she stares up at the translucent photograph, Kidman is positioned out to the audience, yet the moment feels so intimate, the actress’ eyes trained so precisely to demonstrate the private triumph of the discovery.

Photograph 51’s main propulsive force is this thrill of discovery, and Ziegler’s script is just as good at exploring how the many men of the scientific community are driven by the same passion, and how difficult they find it to accept that a woman could ever equal their achievements. We understand how the pressure to resist repressive masculinity plagued Franklin, and how this may have led her to deny further scientific breakthroughs and much of her emotional life in the process. Given levity by Kidman’s dry line readings and the self-deprecating interjections of research assistant Ray Gosling (Joshua Silver), Photograph 51 is compelling, pensive and almost too brief, but this kind of emotional brevity would likely be exactly the sort of play Franklin herself might have approved of.

Photograph 51 plays in London's Noël Coward Theatre until 21 November.

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Reader Comments (10)

Love it! I also happen to be in London and plan to be in the audience of the play Monday night. Can. Not. Wait.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

How I wish I could've seen The Blue Room... *sigh*

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Any chance this transfers to broadway I wonder?

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph W

Nicole has said that she wants to do the play "in another city" and considering it's sold out for the rest of its run, and has really good reviews and raves for Nicole in particular (read that The New York Times review), I don't see how a Broadway run wouldn't happen if Kidman wants to do it.

It better, at least. I've GOT to see this. I'm so jealous of those who get to see Nicole perform live. :(

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjason

Strange how I view Kidman as strictly a film actress. But the reviews for her stage work are just as impressive as her best reviews for film roles. A comeback vehicle for her in film does not seem so far off.

October 4, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I saw the play last weekend. Nicole's approach is unsentimental and at the same time extremely touching - a woman trapped on her decision of being always right and 100% sure ...a decision that wouldnt allow her to see further.... And yes as much as we can sense she is not a stage actress per se, she shines and noves the audience in delicate and compelling performance. She definitely dedicated herself to the challenge!
Oh and Nicole for me excells when playing women trapped in her own conditions and decisions, ser Birth, Rabbit Hole, The Hours, The Paperboy, Dogville! She should do more theater!

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSergio

I'm also seeing this in London in a couple of weeks.... CANNOT WAIT!! :D

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the first night of previews. Nicole gave a commanding performance and has wonderful stage presence for an actress primarily associated with work on screen. She has also been getting great press for her time at the stage door, warmly greeting fans and signing autographs. As a long term Kidmaniac, this is just the type of comeback I was hoping for.

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterallaboutmymovies

If its alr a success on West End (An Olivier, maybe??), high chance it might move to Broadway & maybe even a movie adaptation starrin Nicole herself??!!

Ray Gosling?? for a moment, I thot u mentioned Ryan Gosling!! lol...If thr's a movie adaptation maybe Gosling can play Gosling??? lol

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

UGH I JUST WANT TO SEE THIS NOW! Why do these plays never get filmed? I know it's not the same as seeing them live, and I know this isn't exactly National Theatre Live (which do film and get broadcast in cinemas), but man I want to see it. I wonder if she would ever bring it to Australia. And I'd love to see her win a Tony if they brought the show back to NY.

October 5, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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