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Photograph 51


Photograph51_Bau_01_c_RGBA science play about a revolutionary discovery – and how the boys took over

In the early 1950s the young Jewish scientist Rosalind Franklin had to struggle with a frustratingly male-dominated science establishment at King´s College in London. Some of her colleagues even refused to acknowledge her doctoral title, while access to the faculty club, which was reserved to men, remained denied to her.

After months of work, she succeeded in taking the X-ray photograph that became the turning point for elucidating the DNA double helical structure: photograph 51. However, the credit for this revolutionary scientific discovery was given to the men who used the picture without her knowledge; Franklin´s crucial contribution went unacknowledged for decades.

When James Watson, Francis Crick and Franklin´s colleague Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel prize in 1962, she had been dead for four years.

English Theatre Berlin; PHOTOGRAPH 51In a nutshell, Anna Ziegler‘s play shows the making of an outstanding scientific discovery in a bone-dry, ritualized and women-excluding male establishment, in which an emotional minefield, social coldness and hierarchies, antisemitism and ferocious fighting for recognition and scientific priority went hand-in-hand with scientific curiosity, meticulousness and juvenile enthusiasm. (in 1952, James Watson was just 24 years old, Rosalind Franklin was 32 !).

Photograph 51 was the third production in our Science & Theatre program.

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Image: Magnus Hengge / Photos: Christian Jungeblodt


An Experiment with an air pump


20101214JU6573_S01Y_sA social drama, a science play, a thriller

Something revolutionary is happening at the Fenwicks’, while there’s trouble in the air at Ellen and Tom’s. Fenwick is taking science to dizzying heights, his assistant is after the maid and a mob is rioting at the front door. Ellen, a geneticist, has moral qualms about a job offer and Tom is unemployed. The Fenwicks are living in 1799, Ellen and Tom in 1999 – in the same house. There’s a body in the basement. Who buried it there 200 years ago?

Shelagh Stephenson explores the question of how much morality science can take – and how much it needs – with two compelling examples from two different times in history. To what lengths should the study of anatomy go to procure cadavers at the end of the 18th century? And how far should genetics go at the beginning of the 21st century?

What is good and what is evil science? Shelagh Stephenson projects this question further back in time than most do. Academic debate on the ethical limits to scientific research often focuses on the atomic bomb and unscrupulous Nazi researchers. However, the long period in which body snatching was commonplace for the study of anatomy goes back 150 years before then and is a dark chapter in the history of colonial England between Newton and Darwin.
Modern genetics is constantly forced to deal with the heatedly debated social relevance of its work and results. Genomic research will soon be able to decode our entire genetic make-up at little expense. Will we soon find out in the neighbourhood “Gene Shop” that we are particularly susceptible to alcoholism, cancer, or Alzheimer? Is that something to take seriously? And is it something that we want to know? Who else might want to know, and why?

An Experiment With an Air Pump was the second production in our Science & Theatre program.

Supported by   Druck  fu_logo_150

Shelagh Stephenson was born in Northumberland and read drama at Manchester University. Her first play, The Memory of Water (1995) was a huge success and won her an Olivier Award for Best Comedy; her second one, An Experiment with an Air Pump (1998) was equally sucessful and won the Peggy Ramsay Memorial Award. Other plays are Ancient Lights (2000), Mappa Mundi (2002), and Enlightenment (2005). Her latest one is A Northern Odyssey (2010) about American painter Winslow Homer´s two-year visit to Northumberland in the early 1880s. She has also written numerous radio plays and TV scripts. The Memory of Water was made into a film called Before You Go (2002) starring Julie Walters and Tom Wilkinson and directed by Lewis Gilbert.

 pics: Christian Jungeblodt

A Number

by Caryl Churchill

a-number-rot“Walk round the corner and see yourself you could get a heart attack. Because if that´s me over there who am I?”

A man uses his money to commission a clone: his contractors seize their chance to create twenty more. The talk is of paternal love, and of science, and of good intentions. But who will have to live with the consequences? And who will have to die?

“A taut, chilling two-man work about a desperate father who seeks to duplicate his lost son” – “enormously powerful” – “outstandingly well acted and staged” – “real and truthful in every moment” – “a maelstrom of deep, dark emotions laced with subtle sarcasm and ending with a hint of hope” – “an absolute must-see” – “Science&Theatre, a successful coproduction” (from the reviews in ExBerliner, Die Zeit Online, Neues Deutschland)

anumber-homepageCaryl Churchill’s compelling thought-experiment has a single, simple premise: humans have been cloned. In one hour of ferociously intense tragicomedy, she digs down to the roots of personal identity, exposing the hard but brittle bond between fathers and sons and the ultimate cost of evasion. The past can be buried, but it won’t stay down.


A Number was the first production in English Theatre Berlin´s  Science & Theatre program.

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