‘An Extraordinary Light’ - theatre review

The highlight of this year's Reading Fringe was for me at least ‘An Extraordinary Light’ by Breathe Out Theatre.

Brilliantly written by Rob Johnston, this 50 minute one-woman play imagined reflections drawn from the life of Rosalind Franklin; the scientist who made vital progress in the discovery and structure of DNA, and who used X-ray diffraction to image the helix. Having left Kings College, it was only much later on that the extent of her pioneering work and it's' contribution to understanding the code of life came to light. The Noble Prize awarded to Watson, Crick and Watkins (who drew on her research) for the discovery was in 1962. Too late for Franklin. Her promising career was cut tragically short by an early death from Ovarian cancer several years earlier; probably caused by exposure to the large doses of radioactivity she received in order to obtain the images.

I thought the setting for this play well chosen. An outside hut of the kind you'd imagine at Bletchley Park. All corrugated iron, ingenuity and (post) war limited resources. The props also reflected the 'make do' improvisation of things at that time. At one point, Franklin talks about being in a lab the size of a broom cupboard with materials we know now to be deadly, talking about the unimaginably long exposures necessary to obtain an image.

Katherine Godfrey’s wonderful performance conveyed her subjects' intelligence, authority and certainty of purpose; as well as capturing perfectly her vulnerability and charm. The bitter-sweet knowledge of her contribution to science and posterity, through her relentless search to visualise the evidence (as distinct from an abstract 'model'), is seen against the realities of being put down as 'difficult' (code for being an intelligent woman who will speak her mind) and overlooked. Godfrey played the role with a sense of acceptance of her fate, but without sentiment or self pity.

This was a very special performance indeed. 'An Extraordinary Light'.

(C) Gideon Hall 2014

‘An Extraordinary Light’ by Breathe Out Theatre - reviewed Saturday 19th July - Watlington House


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