Tangram’s retelling of the life and research of Marie Curie encapsulates the passion, dedication and creativity involved in both medical research (particularly early medical research) and art-making, demonstrating a life’s work filled with challenges and sacrifice in the name of uncertain progress. The work, performed by John Hinton (as Curie) and Jo Eagle (on accordion) highlights a number of critical themes important to biomedical research, these include: the ongoing struggles of women to be funded and encouraged in medical training and as research leaders; the uneasy relationship between medical research and private charities; and intellectual property and the winners/losers of extensively patented research.
Curie’s relationship with Missy Meloney (the fundraiser responsible for her not-so-whirlwind tour of America) nicely captures the historic and uneasy relationship between medical research and private funding – and the demands of fundraisers to set agendas – which is also highlighted in Murkherjee’s Emperor of All Maladies, which documents the history of cancer research in the USA. And Tangram’s passionate song about Curie’s decision not to patent her process of radium procurement provides significant proof for the overall rationale for open source technologies, open journals and free resources. While the struggles faced by Curie as a female researcher seem quite heightened by the marginalisation of Eagle (on accordion) into near-silence, the work celebrates the ground-breaking work by an important voice, regardless of gender, and seems to make a passionate claim for equality in research and science. (BL/KB)
THE ELEMENT IN THE ROOM: A RADIOACTIVE MUSICAL COMEDY ABOUT THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARIE CURIE, Tangram Theatre Company, 5-31 August (various dates). Pleasance Courtyard. Please check accessibility with venue. http://www.tangramtheatre.co.uk
More on Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/11/08/cancer-world
On intellectual property – and the patenting of genetic code: http://www.genome.gov/19016590
A history of Rosalind Franklin, noted chemist/geneticist: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2002/10/28/photo-finish-2