Sunday 9 June 2024

Marie Curie - Review

Charing Cross Theatre, London


Music by Jongyoon Choi
Book & lyrics by Seeun Choun
English book adaptation by Tom Ramsay
English lyrics, new musical arrangements & ensemble arrangements by Emma Fraser
Directed by Sarah Meadows

Ailsa Davidson

The international credentials of Marie Curie The Musical are remarkable. This is a show about a Pole, Marie SkÅ‚odowska (she only became Curie once married) who moved to France, that has been written by two Koreans and is now being staged in England. Not only is the show’s pedigree remarkable, so of course is its subject. Curie was a genius. A woman who battled sexism and anti-Polish racism, who discovered Polonium and Radium and who was to win two Nobel Prizes in her lifetime. While Curie’s studies into the use of radiation for cancer treatment was groundbreaking, her exposure to radium, along with countless others who handled the radioactive substance without protection, was to tragically cause her death together with many other workers who unknowingly succumbed to the lethality of those elements.

And so much like those elusive elements that Curie extracted from hard-wom ores, there are rich seams of romantic and dramatic potential to be mined in writing a musical about her life's journey. But in a show that may well have achieved acclaim across  south east Asia, nearly all of what lyrical cleverness there may have been in the Korean original has been lost in translation. 22 songs are squeezed into this one-act, 100-minute production which would be fine, just, if they were strong numbers. Musicals with a strong human arc demand verse that can combine wit, or at the very least irony given this story’s grim structure, to make them soar and stimulate an audience. Marie Curie lacks both. 

Two songs stand out, Radium Paradise, a song and dance number that parodies the impending grim potential of the newly found element, and You Are The Reason a pathos-steeped duet in the show's endgame beautifully sung by Curie (Ailsa Davidson) and her friend and compatriot Anna (Chrissie Bhima).

The show’s musical director Emma Fraser directs her seven-piece band with finesse, creating fabulous music. However Fraser's contribution to the show extends beyond the orchestral work, to include the translation of the show’s lyrics into English. Quite why the producers decided to engage Fraser for this task when the show's programme suggests that she has no previous theatre-writing credits to her name, is a mystery. The consequence of their decision is a show with lyrics that are for the most part shallow and performative, riddled with melodramatic mediocrity and which for all the hard work of the production’s talented cast, result in a dull evening.

Like a handful of the audience members around me, Marie Curie at least in its English iteration, should be quietly put to sleep with dignity.

Runs until 28th July
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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