Marie Curie the Musical
Rating: ★★★★
Venue: Charing Cross Theatre, London
Cast: Ailsa Davidson, Chrissie Bhima, Thomas Josling, Richard Meek, Lucy Young, Isabel Snaas, Christopher Killik, Dean Makowski-Clayton, Maya Kristal Tenenbaum, Yujin Park and Rio Maye

Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Physicist. Pioneer. Parent. She discovers radium, a new chemical element, with her husband Pierre Curie, and she’s lauded with the Nobel Prize. But she is faced with an overwhelming moral dilemma. As Marie discovers the lifesaving potential of radium to cure cancer, factory workers handling the glowing substance are succumbing to the insidious grip of radium poisoning. As a woman with society against her, can she wrestle with both the potential and danger of her discovery – and what is she if radium’s dangers overshadow its possibilities?

Charing Cross Theatre is developing a reputation for premiering English versions of translated shows, it’s a really exciting way of getting new theatre to London and giving space to shows so gorgeous, they just demand to be seen by audiences around the world. 

The arts are an essential way of exploring the past, keeping history alive and passing it along to the next generation, and recently we have seen an influx of both famous and less well-known historic events being brought to stage.

Marie Curie - A New Musical is a soft, poignant musical storytelling of the life, death, and everything in between of Madame Marie Skłodowska-Curie, putting everything you thought you knew about the world renowned, Nobel prize-winning, scientist into an entirely new light, and making her story more heart-wrenching than ever before. We watch it unfold through the eyes of the Curie’s daughter Irene (Lucy Young), sharing extracts from her mother’s diaries while putting together her obituary; seemingly a rather cliché way of staging the show until it reached the final scene, in which a new sense of meaning was poured over everything we had just watched.

The show begins with Irene on stage looking through old boxes and books of her mothers. Through flashbacks of the extracts Irene is reading, we follow Marie (Ailsa Davidson) as she boards a train from Poland to Paris to begin her new life, having been accepted into a prestigious university. While travelling she meets Anne (Chrissie Bhima), a young girl the same age but with a very different looking future, and they promise to stay in touch. An early musical number cleverly alternates between the two girls’ realities, with Marie gaining an education, while Anne is beaten, abused, and worked to the bone. We see Marie get knocked down and ignored time and again by the men that surround her, until we are introduced to a young man by the name of Pierre Curie (Thomas Josling) looking for a lab assistant and decides to give her a chance. 

There is barely any stage time given to the development of their relationship, which is actually rather refreshing. We already know that they’re going to end up married so instead of wasting precious moments building a relationship that isn’t and shouldn’t be centre stage in this story, the musical beautifully portrays the love the couple had for one another while continuing to focus its efforts on driving the story forward, which did move at a surprisingly brisk pace. The show is sung through and runs at 1 hour 40 minutes. It did feel a little rushed at times, often skipping chunks of time without any clear idea of how long had passed.

Of course, it is understood that there will be an element of fiction when combining a true story with art but shows like this have a huge responsibility to portray events from history with truth and accuracy, and transparency whenever this is not the case. There are many significant areas where it is ambiguous as to how much is solid truth and what has been added to the story for artistic development, and when a story is recounting the lives of real people, it’s important that it’s clear what’s true and what isn’t. Having done some research it appears that there’s a huge amount more to this complex story than what we have been given and it begs the question whether a show being kept as simple and easy to follow as possible is truly the best way to share these stories. It felt as though some of the story was underdeveloped, there were many smaller details brought to light that could have been explored further to give the story more depth.

Not one of the performances can be faulted, every single actor does the piece justice with unbelievable beauty and grace, with standout performances from our leading lady herself, Ailsa Davidson, and Chrissie Bhima as Anne, Marie’s best friend. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Ailsa perform before will be well aware that she could bring an audience to tears singing the dictionary! Having seen her blossom on stage as Veronica Sawyer throughout 2022, it’s exciting to see her in a role that couldn’t be more different and it will not be long before hers is a household name. Chrissie also had the opportunity to show off a very different side of herself as a performer, off the back of her last two roles in The Witches and SpongeBob, both of which have a more comical edge. There is no doubt that she has versatility in spades, truly expressing Anne’s pain while embodying the role with poise and of course gifting us with her killer voice. 

The lighting and video play a huge part in this production, and Prema Mehta and Matt Powell have supported the piece beautifully with their intricate designs complementing Rose Montgomery’s incredibly dynamic set and detailed, period appropriate costumes. Emma Fraser has done a stunning job as musical director and with the rewritten arrangements and English lyrics, and the choreography bares all the classic trademarks of a Joanna Goodwin production, combining delicate movement and intricate shadow work with some slightly jazzier numbers in between to mix things up.

The beautiful poignant ending whereby a candle is laid for each factory worker that we met throughout the show who inevitably lost their lives in sacrifice for the advancement of science and their names spoken, brought the audience to tears. It felt a shame not to have learnt more about them and become connected to them as characters, however it is clear that they are also representing the thousands of other nameless, faceless individuals whose lives and deaths contributed to the most important scientific research of the century.

You can book tickets to see Marie Curie the Musical at Charing Cross Theatre, here.

Review by Rachel

**photo credit: Pamela Raith**

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