Marie Curie - A New Musical

As we enter the theatre, we watch Marie Curie’s daughter Irène (Lucy Young) pouring over her mother’s papers and diary. This is the starting point for the story – the daughter reading back over history to discover what happened to this remarkable, Nobel Prize-winning woman.

We know from the outset that Curie’s story, rather like that of Titanic, isn’t going to end well, despite her remarkable discovery of Radium and eventual legacy in advancing treatments for cancer. This is all at a time when women were overlooked and very much second-class citizens, especially in the scientific world. And yet we still find ourselves wincing at choices made, thinking ‘if only they had (or hadn’t) done …’.

This musical, directed by Sarah Meadows, explores themes of gender inequality, friendship, loyalty and ethical dilemma. Our protagonist’s struggle and determination to get her voice heard in a severely male dominated environment, sadly still finds resonance today. We have to ask ourselves if we really have come that far in creating an equal world.

The performances are convincing, we find empathy with Marie, played by Ailsa Davidson. Thomas Josling brings a sensitive nature to the role of Pierre Curie, showing the vulnerability of his first meeting with the woman who will become his wife. It’s a very pointed moment when they jointly win the Nobel Prize for science, announced as ‘Pierre Curie and his wife, Marie’. It’s her discovery of Radium that leads to the prize, but in this misogynistic world, he still gets the first credit.

The stand-out performance for me is brought by Chrissie Bhima as Marie’s friend Anne Kowalska. They meet on the train from Poland on the way to France and strike up a friendship. Their stories are going in very different directions, one on to brilliant scientific discoveries, the other to work in a factory. Their paths will cross again as Anne comes to work at the Radium factory, tragically succumbing to its disastrous effects.

Bhima’s characterisation takes us through the range of emotions; her stage presence is captivating; her voice is powerful. She begins as an excitedly naïve traveller embarking on adventure. She experiences the depths of prejudice in her factory work. She comes with excitement to the Radium factory but in a challenge to her loyalty to her friend, has to match Curie’s determination as she tries to get to the truth of what is happening to all the workers as one by one, they fall ill. The heartbreaking duet she sings with Marie, is beautiful.

The production values are good. The set is essentially a black box, waiting to be filled with scientific discovery. The music is well executed and well balanced, but I find some of the music jarring for the period it’s set in. One particular scene exploring the commercial benefits of Radium (Radium Paradise) feels more like a 1970s commercial than an early twentieth century setting.

The story moves at a pace and tells a lot in the 1 hour and 40 minutes. Perhaps there is a little too much packed in to the time, but then the story is complex and layered. Overall, this is a well-told story of dilemma and determination. It’s an important story, and has resonance for our time.

This show was reviewed on the 7th June 2024 at Charing Cross Theatre where it runs until the 28th July 2024.  Tickets available here: Charing Cross Theatre

Review written by Ian Worsfold


Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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You can watch our interview with Ailsa Davidson here:

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