Review: The Unsung Heroine of the Double Helix

Anna Bradley 28 November 2013

7.30pm, Wed 27 to Sat 30 Nov 2013, Judith E Wilson Drama Studio

It's a story with so much potential: the betrayal of a brilliant female scientist by the two men we all know and love. It promises an exciting and subversive take on Watson and Crick's famous discovery of the double helix.

Unfortunately, this production is as clinical as the lab within which it is set. This involves a plethora of complicated scientific vocabulary which causes actors to repeatedly stumble over their lines. The lines themselves often seem to be repetitive, resulting in a production which lacks realism.  The result? An alienated audience, two of whom walked out.

The effectiveness of this plot should hinge on the creation of a bond between Rosalind and the audience so that the villainy of Watson, Crick and Maurice is met with outrage. This bond, however, simply does not exist. Rosalind Franklin (Katherine Bond) continually exudes a generally haughty air, often becoming unexplainably distressed at the smallest of things. These triggers are left for the most part unexplored and unexplained, despite the fact that doing so would add some desperately needed human interest to the plot. Despite multiple allusions to a mysterious tension between Rosalind and her family, this relationship is never further explored and is instead left behind in the quest for knowledge. 

Rosalind's volatility is mirrored by the lighting which often seems to have a life of its own. Other technical oversights include the projection of text onto an uneven surface, resulting in it becoming unreadable. Minor errors like this would not have stood out if the narrative had been dynamic and exciting, but even the discovery of the double helix was understated and dull.

However, the performance is not a complete disaster. Exuberant portrayals of Maurice Wilkins and Raymond Gosling by Hannah Lucas and Emily F. Luthentun inject humour into an otherwise bleak atmosphere. Despite persistent and contrived allusions to Shakespeare (which seem to annoy the other characters as much as the audience), Edward Garcia makes James Watson his own, lending him just enough eccentricity and pizzazz to lighten the mood. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Francis Crick (Daniel Gladwell) who just seems overly angry throughout the play, once again managing to build an emotional wall between the audience and the cast.

It is a shame that this performance just does not work. The casting of females in the roles of the male scientists was an interesting directorial choice, the costumes were impressive and the cast included talent, but all this failed to save the play. The performance's deficiency was probably a result of the unholy trinity of producer, director and playwright as one; doomed to follow a single misguided vision.

For a history lesson this was quite good but for an evening of entertainment perhaps one to avoid.