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Do you know how the first photo of DNA was taken? You might remember studying genetics in high school science class, and like me have DNA models and talk of dominant and recessive genes – but not much more.
I didn’t know that in the 1950s multiple scientists were racing each other to be the first to discover what our DNA looks like, or that Rosalind Franklin, one of the most prominent – and only – women working in science at the time, was at the forefront of it. Enter playwright Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, directed by Anna Ledwich.
Between 1951 and 1953 Franklin overcame immense scrutiny, discrimination and discouragement to pioneer the technology that would one day allow us to unlock ‘the secret to life’, only to suffer some incredibly unjust consequences. It’s a powerful, engaging and ultimately tragic piece that you will reflect on long after the curtain falls.
Amber McMahon is superb as Rosalind Franklin, capturing Franklin’s frustration at her situation, the hurt that her peers’ callous behaviour causes, and above all her commitment to hard work and professionalism despite her awful working environment. Jake Speer as Don Caspar, an enthusiastic American PhD student with a gentle soul whom Franklin inspires, is another standout; likewise, Garth Holcombe is frustratingly convincing as Maurice Wilkins, who refuses to call Franklin ‘Dr’ and makes too many oblivious sexist fumbles to count in the course of their working relationship.
Toby Blome and Robert Jago make a dynamic pair as James Watson and Francis Crick, the men who would eventually win the Nobel Prize for discovering the structure of DNA, respectively. And Gareth Yuen as Franklin’s assistant Ray Gosling adds a bit of much needed levity to some of the heavier scenes.
The stunning set is a perfect fit for the high calibre cast and story. A huge wall of cabinets holding untold scientific marvels standing intimidatingly over the audience simultaneously captures the magnitude of the project Franklin was working on and how small and alone she was in this male dominated industry. Costuming is similarly engaging, using many vintage pieces to depict the uniforms of the scientific community of the 1950s.
Too often, science is seen from those outside the field as boring or stuffy, and arts as frivolous. What Photograph 51 does so well is show us the beauty that can be created when two highly skilled, opposing industries find a way to come together to tell an important story.
Wine Pairing | Chardonnay
This pairing is super on the nose, and I make no apologies. Chardonnay is the most common white wine varietal grown in Australia and globally, and I wanted this for Photograph 51 because Rosalind Franklin should be so much more well-known than she is. It’s also the wine everyone has an opinion about, just like Franklin, and often unfairly judged when there’s a Chardonnay for every palate out there!
My Pick: Philip Shaw The Architect 2021 Chardonnay, Orange NSW
A classic Aussie cool climate Chardonnay, The Architect has lots of tropical fruit and creamy flavours tempered by high acidity that keep it from overwhelming the palate. This Chardonnay was produced using a technique called the stirring of the lees and partial malolactic fermentation, both of which are used to add buttery flavours and more complex textures to the wine, which appeals to the scientific lean of Photograph 51.
Photograph 51, Ensemble Theatre | Tasting Notes
|Aussie Season||2 Sept to 8 Oct 2022, Ensemble Theatre Company|
|Theatre Type & Genre||Biopic, drama|
|See it if you like||strong female leads, social commentary, history, science|
|Criteria for Wine Pairing||Complex flavours and textures|