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Breaking The Code at the Tower Theatre | Review

Breaking The Code - Photography by David Sprecher
Breaking The Code – Photography by David Sprecher

The inevitable comparison is made between Breaking the Code and a motion picture called The Imitation Game, but it’s hardly a like-for-like comparison, given that the film wasn’t released until 2014 and the play premiered in the West End in 1986. Breaking the Code also has a much broader narrative, whilst not diminishing the importance of Alan Turing’s (1912-1954) work at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, during the Second World War. Some pushing and pulling goes on between scenes on stage to set up the following scene, but the backdrop never changes, and there is a reliance on both costumes and the script to deliver in this plot-heavy production.

Steadily paced, it is remarkable quite how much is packed into this show. Matt Cranfield’s Alan Turing is a delight to watch. The narrative is arguably made unnecessarily complicated by flitting between the various stages of Turing’s life, but Cranfield is just as convincing as Turing the schoolboy as he as Turing the mathematician in conversation at Bletchley with Dillwyn Knox (1884-1943) (Richard Pedersen), another codebreaker. There are also some long monologues that Turing delivers, demonstrating time and again a passion for what the quiz show Mastermind would call his ‘chosen specialist subject’. The occasional slipup, given the length and detail of the monologues, would have been entirely forgivable, but there are none to report.

Much has changed since the play’s 1986 opening night: Turing will be on the new £50 banknote when it is released in 2021, and having been prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ under the laws of the time, a chapter in his life which this play documents almost forensically, he was posthumously pardoned by Her Majesty the Queen in 2013. What this play asserts, in effect, is that Turing is rather like Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is not for me to say whether Turing was on the autistic spectrum or not (I personally doubt it), but rather there seems to be an inability to lie, or at least an inability to lie convincingly. Despite his best efforts to cover for ‘a friend’, there are police interviews with Inspector Mick Ross (Martin Mulgrew), and in one of them comes an admission of relations with Ron Miller (a fresh-faced Joe Lewis).

Turing’s stutter is noticeable here but never overpowering. The sound effects are good, helping to set, for instance, a scene in a pub and another outdoors for a picnic. Otherwise, the script and the actors bringing it to life are left to get on with it, unencumbered by intrusive soundscapes and unnecessarily background music – which is just as it should be. Turing’s relationship with his mother Sara (Sara Nower) is sometimes typical of a teenage boy, incalcitrant and swift to correct the most insignificant of grammatical transgressions. But there’s another side to it – she continues to be Turing’s to-go person whenever something of personal importance needs discussing.

With the advances in technology and computing being what they are these days, Turing’s ambitions might seem tame by contemporary standards (and his criminal record for being a gay man just plain ridiculous). But the show is a reminder of the amount of work that went into the war effort, and not just by those sent directly to the frontline. I get the feeling Turing might well be impressed with today’s technological advances. This intriguing and heartfelt production is a decent tribute to a highly honourable man.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Alan Turing was recently voted the ultimate icon of the 20th century, and will be the new face on the £50 note.
Best known for his work in breaking the German Enigma code during the Second World War, Turing is also considered to be the father of modern computer science. Yet his achievements were overshadowed by his conviction for gross indecency, after breaking establishment code and flaunting his homosexuality at a time when it was illegal.
Breaking The Code skilfully interweaves different timescales and the key elements of Turing’s life to provide a gripping and moving picture of this genius and pioneer.

Breaking the Code
by Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Mike Nower
Wednesday 9th to Saturday 19th October 2019
http://www.towertheatre.org.uk/

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