It’s only two years until the face of Alan Turing appears on the new £50 note. It’s a mark of how widely known and appreciated he has become in recent years and how attitudes and laws have changed since he was found guilty of gross indecency in 1952. He was charged under an Act passed in 1885. A hundred years later Hugh Whitemore was writing Breakng the Code, first staged in 1986, which furthered public awareness of Turing’s treatment by the government and legal system. Just over a year after Whitemore’s death, Tower Theatre, the well-established, non-professional company, revives it at their Stoke Newington base.
A worthy and valiant production.
Regarded as the father of theoretical computer science Turing was plucked from academe to work at the Government Code and Cypher School, Bletchley Park, later known as GCHG, in an urgent attempt to break the German Enigma Code during the Second World War. His success, along with others, is estimated to have shortened the war by two years and saved around two million lives. His triumph and future career was overshadowed, however, by his being a self-confessed homosexual. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Turing reported a burglary to the police associated with a liaison he had with a 19-year-old man. The significance of the burglary faded once the police were handed Turing’s confession on a plate. Pleading guilty to the charge Turing was convicted and allowed to choose between going to prison or accepting probation with a course of hormonal injections that rendered him impotent. He opted for the latter.
The play is in two acts, each of seventy minutes. It’s wordy and at times repetitive, with scenes already enacted often being tediously retold at later stages. Matt Cranfield is onstage almost throughout and does a stalwart job in portraying Turing’s nerdiness, difficulty with relationships and stammer, the intensity of which he skilfully modulates in accordance with the level of emotional stress his character is experiencing. Whitemore wrote some (unnecessarily) long, esoteric passages which present Cranfield with a somewhat thankless challenge in delivery, but he perseveres and his achievement is to be admired. It’s the boys who liven things up. Isaac Insley captures the posh chirpiness of Christopher Morcom, Turing’s school mate at Sherborne, and between them they hint at relationships further down the line. Joe Lewis plays the first of these, skilfully portraying an overtly straight or perhaps bisexual boy who is not averse to using his good looks to make some cash and who can play the innocent when under interrogation. Completing the trio is Pablo Tranchell, playing the boy Turing picked up on his holiday in Corfu. Amusingly referred to as Nikos from Ipsos and speaking only in Greek he has the allure of a Caravaggio Adonis.
Martin Mulgrew gives Detective Ross a somewhat menacing, matter-of-fact, Mr Plod performance of a man bound by duty. Richard Pedersen and Ian Recordon provide classic interpretaions of government employee and civil service types and in similar mould Sarah Nower is a staid mother and traditional woman of the period. Hinting at the new generation that lies ahead Rebecca Allan captures Pat’s admiration for Turing as his co-worker and loving frustration as the woman who would have married him.
The production is probably more worthwhile for those with a particular interest in the subject. Perhaps current familiarity with Turing’s story impacts on the appreciation of this play. It’s certainly not groundbreaking theatre. Mike Nower’s rather flat direction is combined appropriately with the gloomy simplicity of his generally low-lit set. As the scenes accumulate and what little humour there is in the script raises little more than smiles, hopes rise that the end of a worthy and valiant production is in sight.