Katherine Godfrey as Rosalind Franklin, the DNA scientist cheated of her share of a Nobel prize, recounts the heartbreaking story of her life – a tale of success, betrayal and tragedy.
Rosalind, a girl “afflicted” with intelligence since childhood, is a victim of the patriarchal world of science. Through careful, painstaking work, Dr Franklin makes groundbreaking progress towards understanding human DNA. Running a “boy’s race” that she ironically never considered a race to begin with, Franklin’s dedication to methodical work and thoroughness results in a ruthless betrayal by the men who dominate her field.
Godfrey is compelling in this one-woman show, performed at Brighton Media Centre, an intimate venue hidden away beneath Middle Street near the seafront. The audience hangs on every word of Godfrey’s passionately delivered monologue. Though at first her voice appears a little strangled with nerves and the delivery is a little hammy, it is barely noticeable and soon disappears as you become engrossed in her life story. Ultimately Godfrey’s portrayal of Dr Franklin is highly believable and multi-faceted: cold, socially awkward, but strong – a highly intelligent and driven woman.
Writer Rob Johnston weaves this tale of crushing disappointment sensitively and skilfully. It is not only refreshing to see a woman’s monologue, but Johnston’s refusal to focus unduly on Franklin’s love life and his choice instead to focus on her dedication to her work over relationships, family and even food is a welcome challenge to the frankly stale gender roles that are still being recycled over and over again in the theatre. The show sends a subtle but very poignant message about the situation of women in male-dominated industries, sadly as applicable now as it was in the 1950s.
An Extraordinary Light is particularly interesting for those who are unfamiliar with Rosalind’s story, which, as it unfolds, evokes admiration, laughter, frustration and rage. Whilst there is a tendency for the script to go off on the odd tangent, Godfrey does well to keep the audience captivated, and there are certainly many moments of tension created by her commanding persona and her ability to immerse all those present in the injustice that tainted Dr Franklin’s career. Though some may find the lack of supporting characters dull, ultimately the choice to present Franklin’s biography in the form of a monologue was imperative for the successful showcasing of both Godfrey’s remarkable talents and succeeds in giving Rosalind Franklin some of the recognition she should have received before her untimely death.
An Extraordinary Light played as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.