Charing Cross Theatre

MARIE CURIE – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre


“The music is the highlight, even though it often feels it belongs to another story.”

Marie Curie, née Maria Salomea Sklodowska, is remembered for her discovery of radium and polonium (the latter named after her native Poland); and for her huge contribution to finding treatments for cancer. The latter is what she is generally celebrated for, along with the hospital and charity that bear her name. Less is probably known about her years of obsessive scientific research and the opposition and misogyny she faced while trying to get her name onto the periodic table. The science goes over most people’s heads, whereas the enduring image is of Marie, buttoned up to the neck in black, gazing unsmiling into the camera.

An unlikely subject for a musical. But composer Jongyoon Choi and librettist Seeun Choun obviously decided to give it a go. After making the finals of the ‘Glocal Musical Live’ competition in Korea it secured funding and eventually premiered in Seoul in 2018. Apparently, Tom Ramsay’s English adaptation (with lyrics translated by Emma Fraser) marks the first time a Korean musical is staged in English.

There are elements to this musical that would have many a physicist scratching their head. Its essence is not instantly discoverable despite condensing Marie’s story into a one act musical. It concentrates on her relocation to Paris, charting her struggle to fit into a man’s world. The narrative follows her research and discoveries, the adverse and tragic effects of these discoveries and the subsequent battles against corporate baddies. The love interest is supplied by fellow scientist and husband, Pierre Curie, although it is a bit of a cold fusion. The passion is reserved for the chemical elements, with love songs titled ‘Radium Paradise’ (parts one and two no less). In fact, the show could have been called ‘Radium: The Musical’.



It opens at the end with Marie’s daughter, Irène (Lucy Young), reading her mother’s memoirs while Ailsa Davidson’s spectral, black-clad Marie watches. Davidson’s fine, pure voice sits well on the lush strings of the prologue as she guides the story back to the start. Rose Montgomery’s changeable set is with her every step of the way, from the train carriage as it pulls into Paris, to the laboratories and the factories. On the journey, Marie meets fellow Pole, Anne Kowalska (Chrissie Bhima), a lowly factory worker who later becomes the voice of justice and moral reasoning. It takes a while to get there, though, with the bulk of the show comprising a song cycle leading up to Marie’s discovery of radium.

The tone darkens when the destructive side of radium manifests itself. Initially used as luminous paint for watches and clock dials, the painters were instructed to lick their brushes to give them a fine point. It didn’t take long for this practice to lead to a sharp peak in the death rate among the workers. Covered up as a syphilis outbreak (did they really think they could get away with that?), the factory boss (Richard Meek) finds himself at loggerheads with Marie.

It is refreshing to see the story focus on a relatively short time span rather than attempting to create an epic chronicle of the woman’s life. It lends a human touch, steering the piece away from docudrama. Marie’s later years and achievements are glossed over during the finale. We might not learn a great deal that we already didn’t know but instead we are joyously swept along by Jongyoon Choi’s sumptuous score, rich in violins, cellos and clarinet. The music is the highlight, even though it often feels it belongs to another story. Choi’s compositions are indeed stirring, yet the lyrics and subject matter don’t always echo the passion.

The passion, however, is undeniable in the performances, and we also come away with some pertinent reminders of the historical struggle of women with a society against them. But despite the beauty of the score, and Emma Fraser’s arrangements, there is a sense that this story belongs more to the spoken word.


MARIE CURIE – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed on 7th June 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith








Previously reviewed at this venue:

BRONCO BILLY – THE MUSICAL | ★★★ | January 2024
SLEEPING BEAUTY TAKES A PRICK! | ★★★★ | November 2023
REBECCA | ★★★★ | September 2023
GEORGE TAKEI’S ALLEGIANCE | ★★★★ | January 2023
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY | ★★★★ | November 2022
RIDE | ★★★★★ | August 2022



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