IN August 2014 Her Majesty the Queen officially pardoned code breaker Alan Turing, wiping out his conviction for gross indecency. But of course it was 60 years too late.
The brilliant cryptographer and founder of computer science, an old boy of Sherborne School and decoder of the German Enigma code, died in 1954 at the age of 41 after eating a poisoned apple. It was a fairytale ending for the man credited with speeding the Allied victory in World War II.
In 1986 Hugh Whitemore wrote a powerful play about Turing and his life, followed in 2014 by the Oscar-winning film The Imitation Game.
Whitemore’s play is a subtle and complex celebration of the life of this remarkable mathematical genius whose own naivete led to his prosecution for homosexuality, and it calls for equally subtle directing and performing.
The key is not only to breathe theatrical life into a very private man, but also to allow him to communicate his passionate and sometimes funful delight in mathematics to an audience of amateurs.
And it’s hard to imagine it better done than by director Pat Richardson and her ImpAct company.
Not only does the astonishing Stewart Barlow look like Turing, but he inhabits the role, explaining the complexities of inventing a computer and decoding the German war plans with consummate ease, but making Turing’s apparent foolishness in telling the police about a robbery (by his lover) completely understandable.
At Sherborne, Turing fell in love with Christopher Morcom, a fellow scientist in a school full of jocks and artists. Morcom’s early death from TB had a profound and lifelong effect on young Alan, whose questing excellence was dedicated to his young friend.
The two women who were important in Turing’s life, his mother and his Bletchley Park assistant Pat Green were poignantly played by Louise Thomas and Harriet Rose, against a set cleverly changed by back projections. The period feel was perfectly captured.
Michael Griffiths was the bumbling Dillwyn Knox, with Nathan Linsdell as the bit of rough, and sensitive performances by Matthew Ellison as the policeman and Nick Longland as the man from the security services. There was no hint of bullying or judgement in their readings of the men who brought Turing to despair.
You will not see a better production of this moving play on any stage, amateur or professional.
ImpAct’s Breaking the Code continues on its tour to the Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne on Sunday 13th March, The Hub at Verwood on Wednesday 16th, The Exchange at Sturminster Newton on Friday 18th and The Plaza at Romsey on Monday 21st March.
Photographs by Bob Heather