Animating Dorothy

Miranda Cook as Dorothy Hodgkin ((c)Mark Brome Photographer)

My long absence from the blogosphere is largely due to Dorothy Hodgkin’s centenary, which fell on 12 May 2010 (belated birthday wishes, Dorothy).

For a couple of years I had  been sending gentle prompts to various quarters suggesting that something should be done to mark the occasion, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Britain’s only female Nobel-prizewinning scientist. Jim Kennedy, Director of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History responded by choosing that date to unveil a bust of Dorothy in the Museum, a long-cherished project that he had managed to pull off with support from the EPA Cephalosporin Fund.

Inspired by a one-woman show about Barbara McLintock, The Longing to Understand by Jane Cox, I offered to write a show about Hodgkin, Hidden Glory,  to be performed on the evening of the unveiling. On a scarily short timescale the project came to fruition as a professional show with a wonderful actress, Miranda Cook, and director, Abbey Wright, supported by a young creative team of designer Florence McHugh, lighting designer and production manager Andy Reader, and sound designer Chris Barlow.

Because my promptings had led the Royal Society to hold a commemorative day on 12 May, the Museum event took place on 10 May 2010. Dorothy’s sister Diana, 92, flew all the way from Canada to be there and to unveil the bust; all three of her daughters were also there, as were Dorothy’s daughter Liz Hodgkin and numerous other family and friends. We also invited lots of Oxford chemists and molecular biologists who had known Dorothy. ‘Uncanny’ was the verdict of one of them on Miranda’s performance, which was moving and quietly amusing by turns as it revealed the essential integrity of Dorothy’s scientific and personal lives.

We’re all very proud to have been involved in the project, and hope it can move on to new venues (we did a second performance at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford a few days later); I will post here as soon as we have some dates.

I’m now more convinced than ever that theatre is a great way to introduce audiences to science and scientists, giving them an insight into the scientific life that they will never get either from books or from ‘public engagement’ talks and demonstrations.

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