Skip to content


Home arrow Archive: Earlier Fringes arrow Archive: Edinburgh 2010
Photo 51
Published on Monday, 23 August 2010

3.5 stars

Zoo Roxy (venue website)
6 - 30 Aug (not 16, 23), 5:15pm (6:15pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Using an overhead projector, lab coats, chalkboards and – oh – a Jenga set, Theatre With Teeth innovatively capture a seminal moment in 20th Century learning.  The discovery of DNA’s double helix has long been ascribed to Cambridge men Watson and Crick; but what of the London woman, Rosalind Franklin, whose contribution remained largely unacknowledged until twenty years after her untimely demise?

With a stylized, hugely physical performance, the young ensemble reflect both the scientific and the human side of the DNA story.  A striking opening scene evokes both the delight of discovery and the acclaim of peers – yet Franklin, denied her moment of triumph, is left behind as other scientists are cheered onto the stage.

A few recurring motifs dominate the performance, notably the use of words on chalkboards to introduce new characters and highlight developments in the plot.  It’s a device which works well, both informative and humour-filled, and there’s a real cleverness about the way the words are scrambled to reveal new phrases and ideas.  Spoken dialogue is more sparse, but what’s there is well-chosen – with readings from Franklin’s diary filling in her story, and some entertainingly sharp exchanges among her academic peers.

The playful, almost-simian portrayal of the ensemble of scientists was initially incongruous, but over time came to perfectly evoke the eternally restless curiosity of the enquiring mind.  Franklin is fixated, almost to the point of madness, as she works to assemble the pieces of the crucial Photograph 51; and when she first sees the result, she looks on her discovery with a reverence akin to worship, as the chalkboards proclaim the grainy and blobby image “the most beautiful photo”.

What satisfied me less, though, was the actual storytelling.  Much of the historical background is supplied by a “talking head” character, a well-acted but curiously clumsy device for a show where so much else is evoked rather than described.  And there’s a hint of suspicion that, in fighting one injustice, they’ve created another; this time, it’s Watson and Crick whose work is minimized, who are turned into stereotypes by the demands of the plot.

But science, of course, is a complex subject, and scientific controversies are more complex still.  Photo 51 worked best for me when it focused on the human side; Franklin’s excitement at life in Paris, the poignant final letter which precedes her early death.  Still, Photo 51 deserves tremendous credit for its fresh approach to an often-staid subject – and for the creative, sympathetic visualization of the thrill of discovery, a desire to experiment which this young company so clearly shares.

<< Laura Solon: The Owl of S...   Morgan and West: Time Tra... >>


These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

Edinburgh 2013

Coming to the Fringe this year?  We can help you make the most of your time.  Learn about Edinburgh's summer Festivals and plan your visit around the city's major events. 

Find out more >>