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Photograph 51 - When theatre meets science, and probes the drama behind the discovery of DNA

Read time: 3 mins
19 Jul 2018

Haven’t we all heard about DNA, the genetic material that makes who we are? Short for Deoxyribonucleic acid, the DNA is made of two chains that coil around each other forming the double helix structure as we know it today. Although Friedrich Miescher first isolated the DNA molecule in 1869, it was not until 1953 that we understood its structure. Two scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick, are well-known for showing us the double-helix structure of the DNA. However, do you know this was all possible also because of the X-ray diffraction data acquired by Raymond Gosling, who was a student of Rosalind Franklin? Why don't we often hear these two names?

That’s the plot of the play called Photograph 51, the flagship production by Bangalore Little Theatre. This award-winning play by Anna Ziegler, being produced for the first time in India, is the 16th play under the History of Ideas programme. It is about the ambition, isolation, and the race for greatness—something that is seen in any workplace, let alone in the run to win the Nobel Prize! The title of the play comes from Photograph 51, the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin.

“The History of Ideas programme is a principal vehicle for the Public Awareness thrust of Bangalore Little Theatre Foundation, a registered Public Charitable Trust. It is an international programme in collaboration with renowned playwrights from different parts of the world. The essence of the programme is the production of plays based on the lives of great personalities who have contributed significantly to human thought in a demanding historical context”, says Poornima Kannan from Bangalore Little Theatre.

The play is directed by Sridhar Ramanathan and Archana Kariappa and has about 12 artists playing different roles. The organisers have arranged for public shows in various theatres across Bangalore and also at various scientific institutes across the city. Pointing out that theatre is “an effective medium to share stories of science and influence society”, Ms Kannan says the program aims to “achieve a wide public reach for inspiration regarding creative human endeavour and Public awareness regarding the shaping of societies”.

Photograph 51 is not just an endeavour by artists; there are also eminent scientists involved in the making of the play. “We reached out to Prof. P. Balaram, former Director of IISc, who in turn put us in touch with Prof. Manju Bansal. Prof Bansal is an X-ray crystallographer herself, and she enlightened us on the intricacies of the techniques and the life of someone at that time”, recounts Ms Kannan.

The play is scheduled to premiere on July 22nd at Alliance Francaise. Over the next month, there are many public and in-house shows at Alliance Francaise, Jagriti and Ranga Shankara. There are also invited shows in institutions across the city. “We would be open to performing the play in any venue as long as there is interest in the audience to learn more about the ‘Secret of Life’”, says Ms Kannan.

Here is the confirmed schedule so far:

Alliance Francaise - 22nd July
Jagriti - 27, 28 and 29th July
Christ University - 3rd August
British Council - 12 August
NCBS - 17th August

The organisers are working with other institutes like IISc, RRI, JNCSAR, Infosys, Biocon, VITM  and RRI to confirm the dates.

So, ready to grab your tickets? You can book them on BookMyShow or purchase them at the venue. For further details, please contact Poornima Kannan (9880791171) or  Archana Kariappa (9789088904)