Marie Curie

Book & lyrics by Seeun Choun, music by Jongyoon Choi, English book adaptation by Tom Ramsay, English lyrics by Emma Fraser, based on a literal translation by Ahreumbi Rew
Byungwon Kang & LIVE corp.
Charing Cross Theatre

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Marie Curie company with (left) Ailsa Davidson as Marie Skłodowska-Curie and (kneeling) Lucy Young as her daughter Irène Credit: Pamela Raith
Marie Curie company with (right) Richard Meek as Ruben DeLong Credit: Pamela Raith
Marie Curie company with (lit left) Chrissie Bhima as Anne Kowalska and (lit right) Thomas Josling as Pierre Curie and Ailsa Davidson as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Credit: Pamela Raith
Ailsa Davidson as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Credit: Pamela Raith
Marie Curie company Credit: Pamela Raith

This biographical musical about chemist and physicist Marie Curie was created in Korea and, after productions in the Far East, now gets its European première in this English adaptation.

Framed by Curie’s daughter Irène going through her mother’s papers it is a compact, single-act telling of the Nobel-winning scientist’s life story from when she leaves her native Poland for the Sorbonne in Paris. It shows a woman devoted to science. It is not just the lecture room blackboard that is covered in formulae, they become spread over the whole set, and Seeun Choun’s book concentrates on the discovery of radium and its beneficial and catastrophic effects rather than personal life.

Much of the drama is channeled into the songs and expressed through the ensemble choreography. A lively score with twenty numbers ranges across style and tempo from foot-tapping rhythms to a lullaby-like dirge with sometimes a harsh note to match the drama. Occasionally, the pace is too fast for clear comprehension, but the singing is spot-on.

Ailsa Davidson gives us the driven scientist, but there is little opportunity for her to show more, and Thomas Josling as her husband Pierre has even less chance, though is clearly caring. Richard Meek’s profit-centred factory owner Ruben DeLong gets more attention as we see him first as supporter then as exploitive enemy. An early scene, as Marie makes friends with Anne Kowalska (Chrissie Bhima) as their train leaves Warsaw, suggests much greater interest in character than gets followed through, but Anne becomes the voice of responsible reason and Bhima’s singing is a delight throughout.

Sarah Meadows’s direction makes up for some of what is lacking with bold theatricality: dramatic use of silhouetted figures, the green glow of radium, Joanna Goodwin’s bold choreography and the refiguring of Rose Montgomery’s versatile set used to give an impression of action.

The tragic contradiction of radiation, which will save lives threatened by cancer, also being a killer if not used with careful control, provides its own drama as Marie Curie’s story unfolds; celebration overshadowed by the fate of the workers in DeLong’s factory.

This new musical is a bit like a speed-read: it packs in the main points and holds the attention while not taking enough time to dig deeper or be truly moving. It will be most effective for those who know little about the Curies, but falls a little short of the tribute that I believe its creators intended.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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