By Helen Albert, Editor
The story of a brilliant biochemist ‘Prez’ and his discovery that the fictional weedkiller and endocrine disruptor ‘atraphosphate’ is dangerous to human health, as well as the subsequent professional and emotional fallout from this finding, is the focus of The View From Nowhere at the Park 90 theatre in Finsbury Park, London.
The play is an enjoyable insight into the ethical dilemmas and conflicts that can be thrown up by scientific research that challenges the status quo.
With a nod to the 1986 book of the same name by philosopher Thomas Nagel about objectivity and subjectivity, the play highlights the funding dilemmas and potential conflicts of interest scientists can face when Prez is offered a large research grant by the chemical company ‘Alchemex’ (who manufacture atraphosphate).
Initially enthusiastic about the grant and the opportunity for academic advancement Prez and his postdoc Sandy throw themselves into their research. When their earlier findings showing atraphosphate in a poor light are confirmed and they push for publication, Alchemex, which is concerned by the research findings and facing a lawsuit, hires an aggressive Public Relations Director ‘Rona’ to protect their reputation and minimise the damage to the company. Barrier after barrier are placed in the scientists’ way to prevent their research being validated and made public.
The potential conflict between maintaining scientific rigour and following the company line, experienced by scientists working in industry, is well illustrated by the character of Tom Pennington, the Alchemex-employed biochemist who liaises between Prez and Rona. Very much an ‘old boy’ type character he is a sharp contrast to eccentric and unconventional Prez. Well portrayed by Math Sams, he becomes more and more uneasy about the underhand tactics employed by Rona (played by a wonderfully slick Nina-Toussaint-White) to undermine Prez and Sandy’s research and cannot decide if his loyalties lie more with science or the company that employs him.
Emma Mulkern does a good job of portraying the intelligent, but emotionally insecure, Sandy who seems to hero worship Prez. She is the altruistic and idealistic voice that questions the ethics of the other protagonists. Having worked with laboratory scientists, Sandy seemed a more genuine depiction of an earnest postdoc to me than Prez’s eccentric scientist. While it’s true that there are many eccentric scientists, at times Mensah Bediako’s slightly overdone characterisation of Prez did not quite ring true with me.
The small ‘in the round’ setting worked well for the production, with clever use of lighting to project cells onto the stage and give the impression of a lab inside a petri dish.
Overall, while a little rough around the edges in parts, this was an enjoyable and well researched production and I will be interested to see what Director Dan Phillips and writer Chuck Anderson come up with next.