Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Breaking the Code - Review - People's Theatre

Breaking the Code
13th Feb 2018

The impact of this show begins as soon as you take your seat – the stage is set with box shelves with typewriters and other paraphernalia each side of the stage, in perfect symmetry against a backdrop of oversized dials, dramatically lit, and at the front a single bare table and chair.

As the play starts a man – Alan Turing - enters, sits at the table and positions himself prone, one arm outstretched across the table, his head resting on the arm, he rests motionless as broken sentences, music, and electronic noise blare out in a cacophony of sound. This sound, harsh and abrasive will mark change of each scene as time switches between each flashback of Turing’s life.
The scene changes are swift and almost clinical as the cast and crew move props swiftly and silently in almost choreographed movements.  

From the very first line uttered Richard Jack holds us spellbound with his sympathetic, compassionate portrayal of Turing. The first scene is his interview with the police officer Mick Ross, reporting a burglary in which very little of worth has been taken. It becomes increasingly obvious that there is more to the burglary than Turing is admitting, and Detective Ross grows increasingly suspicious. You can feel the undercurrents of distrust and anxiety between Turing and Ross as the questions become more pointed and the answers unsatisfactorily vague. And yet it is also filled with humour – as is the whole play. It deals with such heart-breaking injustices and yet it is not at all self-pitying. It portrays Turing as a bright, intelligent, passionate, and compassionate man. A truthful and principled man. Lacking social skills, he appears gauche and awkward at times and yet is transformed when he speaks of his work, of the love of mathematics and philosophy.  Jack’s delivery is impeccable. From the young, adolescent Alan to the older, jaded man he is utterly believable.

The supporting cast all give excellent performances, but acknowledgements should go to Adam Kadow as Christopher, Richard Gardner upholding the law as Detective Ross, and  Eileen Davidson endearing as Turing’s mother. Steve Robertson is outstanding as Turing’s gruff, forgetful boss at Bletchley. While Nathan Hussain as Ron leaves us wondering whether he was a good guy or a bad guy – louche, charming, but dishonest.  

Breaking the Code is a funny, emotional, heartrending play. It seems horrific to us now that a man who was instrumental in helping end the Second World War should have been so hideously treated – act two really only hints at the difficulties that Turing encountered before and after his arrest. He is a national hero and yet was ostracised by the very people whose freedom he helped to win.

I wonder, did he take a bite of the poisoned apple to escape a life he felt was untenable,  hoping a charming prince would save him, or did he do it, knowing he had achieved all he could in the circumstances, and would finally join his prince, the boy he had loved, and who had inspired his entire life’s work?

This is the best performance yet from The People’s Theatre. It runs until Saturday. You should not miss it.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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