Bringing a historical figure to the stage can be difficult, mainly because there is never an inherent style or concept to pursue. That was the challenge Korean creators Seeun Choun and Jongyoon Choi took on with Marie Curie, now translated to English for its UK premiere, directed by Sarah Meadows. The result is a conventional, well-intentioned musical with an enjoyable score – but it lacks a sense of purpose, making it feel flat and even reductive of this pioneering scientist’s story.


Framed by Curie’s daughter looking through her mother’s diaries, the show blasts through critical moments in her life in under 100 minutes. We rarely have a chance to take in any of the action – character development does not seem to be a key concern. The core drama hinges on Marie’s internal conflict about her discovery of radium, for having both life-saving and harmful properties. It becomes more personal when her friend Anne falls ill from working in the factory.


The rapid pace and lack of depth are only somewhat problematic. My main gripe is that the subject matter has not been sensitively reconciled with its theatrical format. There are captivating songs reminiscent of Schwartz and even Webber, but they are jarring when juxtaposed with some of the more harrowing moments. Having a showstopping number evoking Sweeney Todd about the deadly consequences of radium exposure feels inappropriate. Indeed, the oversimplifications and excessive sentimentality seem misjudged. As Curie ponders the morality of her work, we are meant to evaluate her integrity and virtue as if her life is a Disney parable.


The cast, however, works hard to bring the material to life. Alisa Davidson as Curie delivers a mighty vocal performance and skillfully handles the thin dialogue, though the production would benefit from a more commanding presence for such a crucial role. Chrissie Bhima provides a raw portrayal of Anne, particularly during her sizzling power ballads; however, it is unfortunate that the book often forces her into melodrama.


The design is sleek, with dynamic rotating set pieces that help drive the action forward. Still, the modern touches – the contemporary hairstyles, piercings, and Doc Martens – feel inconsistent with the period clothes and old-timey projections, contributing to an overall chaotic tone.


The production displays promise in its attempt to move beyond a mere Wikipedia summary of Curie’s life. It strives to give humanity to her story and the internal struggle she might have faced, but the execution falls short. There is no need for a super bold concept to shed new light on history (like with Hamilton or Six), but bringing it into a theatrical medium should not risk trivialising it. According to the show, Curie set out to ‘do the impossible.’ Bringing her story to the stage is not quite that; it just deserves deeper care.