Secret of Life

Play title:  The Secret of Life

Author (s):  Bruce Coughran

For more information contact the playwright, Bruce Coughran, at 

Genre: Drama

Primary Discipline: Genetics

Secondary Discipline: Biology

Scientist (s) or Historical Figure (s):

James Watson – Chicago native, Watson studied the structural chemistry of nucleic acids and proteins. Working with Crick, they created the first model of DNA.

Francis Crick – English molecular biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, Crick helped create the first model of DNA with Watson. Their model showed the double helix structure of DNA.

Rosalind Franklin -London native Rosalind Franklin earned her PhD in physical chemistry. Her research focused on X-ray crystallography and the structure of DNA.

Maurice Wilkins – Nuclear Physicist, Wilkins was one of the first to discover that DNA could be studied through X-ray crystallography.

Raymond Gosling – British scientist who studied under Rosalind Franklin. He specialized in X-ray diffraction photography.

Peter Pauling – Linus Pauling’s son. 

Character Breakdown: 

JAMES WATSON, 23, an American post-doctoral fellow, nerdy 

FRANCIS CRICK, 36, an English Graduate Student, a talker 

ROSALIND FRANKLIN, 30, accomplished Scientist, elegant, tough 

MAURICE WILKINS, 35, New Zealand-born English Physicist, awkward

RAYMOND GOSLING, 25, a British Graduate Student, warm 

PETER PAULING, 20, American, a playboy. Son of legendary chemist Linus Pauling. (Can be played by the same actor who plays Raymond Gosling) 

(Character Breakdown provided by play text)


Cavendish Laboratories, Cambridge, England 

Biophysics Laboratory, Kings College, London

Eagle Pub – Cambridge
Choy’s Restaurant – London 

(Setting provided by play text)

Time Period: 1950’s

Synopsis of Play: It is early in 1951. In Cambridge, England, a precocious 23-year old American, James Watson, arrives to work as a guest at Cavendish Laboratories and is put into a shared office with 36-year old English graduate student Francis Crick. Several miles away in London, a brilliant British crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin, comes back from 3 years in Paris to work at Kings College Laboratories, and is given an assignment to work with a new sample of pure DNA, unknowingly intruding on the work of Dr. Maurice Wilkins at the same lab. The two groups, put together by chance, will clash and chafe, both within themselves and between each other, and within a year, one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century will emerge; the structure of the DNA molecule. The discovery will be called one of the most important in the history of Biology. Francis Crick referred to it simply as “The Secret of Life”. 

(Synopsis provided by New Play Exchange)

First Performance Date: Dec. 2015

First Producer: Indra’s Net Theatre

Performance History: This show was performed in December 2015 at the Indra’s Net Theatre in Berkley, California.


Entered by: Anna Galanides

Photo/Visual Research with citations

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