I had wanted, in a review of ‘the untold story of Alan Turing’ (as To Kill A Machine is subtitled), to avoid referencing a certain motion picture that also explored Turing’s life, but when this play makes multiple mentions of the words ‘imitation’ and ‘game’ – not always mutually exclusively, mind you – it’s rather difficult not to. So I shall get this out of the way: this play packs more narrative into just under an hour than The Imitation Game film does in just under two.
The show raises as many questions as it answers, which works in this philosophical production. Rather less successful is the division of scenes into rounds in a game show. Some may have found this approach light-hearted, even a form of comic relief, but for me it merely served to trivialise some very important issues being explored, both personal and political. What was with the borderline gurning? While significant (at least, to me), it is my one and only complaint.
Bletchley Park was but one part of the life story of Alan Turing (Gwydion Rhys), beset from beginning to end by his non-conformance to the society of his era, whether it be pedantically correcting mathematical errors in the workings out of both teachers and fellow pupils, or his well-known homosexuality. Rhys’ performance is often gripping, and sometimes very physical, always capturing the essence of a man clearly highly intelligent but lacking in social graces. It has been suggested by some that Turing would have simply been classed as autistic in this day and age; the play, rightly, gives no opinion either way.
The attention to detail is impressive, with mannerisms, including a slight stammer, adding an insight into the sort of sometimes fragile and vulnerable man Turing was. The closing monologue is incredibly moving, as was, in a way, the curtain call. Rhys appeared to be strongly affected himself by what had just happened on stage, and quite relieved he had discharged his duty in playing such an intense character.
Turing’s brother, John (François Pandolfo, who also plays various other roles, including an early friend of Alan Turing, Christopher Morcom) does his level best to dispense some sound advice; John’s frustration is very much evident, particularly as Alan Turing, being the thinker he was, has detailed (and plausible) explanations for all of his actions. Behind the seemingly meek persona there was, presented here, a principled man of considerable backbone, and it is in the revelation of his wanting to tell, as it were, the
truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that this play led me to admire Turing for the sort of person he was, even more than his extraordinary contribution to modern-day computer science.
The show gives insights into both Turing’s private and public lives, with the personal details increasingly overlapping his academic work until it overtakes it. Both the Government and the police of the day are portrayed by Robert Harper and Rick Yale quite convincingly. Rhys’ Turing poses questions about whether a machine can think like a person, and this is still something to ponder on today, as ‘artificial intelligence’ continues to develop. A fascinating production about a fascinating man.
Review by Chris Omaweng
To Kill A Machine
Kings Head Theatre
To Kill a Machine tells the life-story of war-time cryptanalyst Alan Turing. It is a story about the importance of truth and injustice and about the importance of keeping and of revealing secrets.
The play examines his pioneering work considering whether a machine could think asking the questions: what then is the difference between a human and a machine and if a human is prevented from thinking, do they then become a machine?
At the heart of the play is a powerful love story which questions the meaning of humanity, and the importance of freedom and considers how these questions are played out in relation to Turing’s own life, death and posthumous re-evaluation. It is the story of Turing the genius, Turing the victim and Turing the constant, in a tumultuous world.
Written by Catrin Fflur Huws
Directed by Angharad Lee
Produced by Sandra Bendelow for Scriptography Productions in partnership with Cwmni Arad Goch
6th to 23rd April 2016