Breaking The Code

By Hugh Whitemore

Performed at the Unicorn Theatre 24th to 27th November 2003

Spotlight falls on a true enigma

Brilliant Alan Turing broke codes - in every way - during his troubled life. He was the man who cracked the Nazi's complex Enigma Code at Bletchley Park in the Second World War, an event which changed the course of history, allowing the Allies to run the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic.

But Turing, a mathematician and computer pioneer, also broke the sexual codes of the times, making little attempt to hide his homosexuality.

In Hugh Whitemore's play Breaking the Code, performed by Abingdon Drama Club at the Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, last week, Jon Crowley brilliantly played the stuttering intellectual.

He delivered all his lines perfectly, bringing to life the complexity of the genius who gained the OBE for his wartime services to his country - but later committed suicide after being found guilty of gross indecency. Under the direction of Chris Frost and produced by Eileen Bagshaw, the play shifted back and forth through Turing's life, from his childhood to the mid 1950s when he became a university professor.

Through subtle lighting changes and by simply changing his jacket, the faultless Jon Crowley was able to take us swiftly through different - and difficult - periods of his leading character's life.

And thus the tragedy unfolded of the wartime hero who lost his way and was eventually stripped of his security clearance because of his sexuality.

While Mr Crowley shone in the demanding central role, he was ably assisted by a fantastic cast, in particular, Adam Blake as a no-nonsense policeman, Chris Kendrick as Turing's sympathetic boss at Bletchley Park, and Anne Hall as the doting colleague who fell in love with him.

Thanks to Abingdon Drama Club, the true enigma of persecuted Alan Turing was there for all to see. A real theatrical m-m-masterpiece.

Roy Cooper - Abingdon Herald - 2/10/03

'It seems that the Club has grown up a little' observed an elderly member of the audience to his wife as the cast took their bows. I knew what he meant: Alan Turing had just committed suicide amongst the stalls, and we all felt just the way we were supposed to feel. The comment was followed by vigorous applause.

As a local writer, concerned more with inventing characters and plots for novels than the daunting task of interpreting the words of others, I knew little of the technicalities of the drama. I was interested more in whether the performance could involve me with the characters and their story, and if I would believe at all.

I am happy to report that I left the theatre as a satisfied customer and, had I paid for my complementary ticket, I would have felt that I had my money's worth. In short, the Abingdon Drama Club delivered a solid, professional and thoroughly convincing production. I now feel that I know something of the life of Turing.

Whitemore's drama is played out in seventeen scenes arranged out of chronological sequence over a twenty-five year timeframe. The script focuses on the central character and thus the entire performance hinges on the actor given the daunting task of playing Turing, in this case Jon Crowley.

I found him highly convincing, from the stammer to the cords and jacket of the archetypal eccentric intellectual. Crowley demonstrated a mastery of the dialogue, which some might argue dominates the play to the extent that the supporting players are marginalized a little more than makes dramatic sense, and of its delivery.

It was easy to believe that the man on the stage was the troubled but highly talented mathematician at almost any point in the two and a half decades of ageing experienced through the drama; quite an achievement on the actor's part given the production's minimalist approach to costume and make-up.

I felt that Crowley's real strength lay in his ability to strike a balance between the well-meaning charisma of a genius and the streak of uncompromising resilience that so offended the society in which he lived. If the actor erred in places, it was on the side of charisma, when playing Turing at his most confident.

The supporting cast seemed for the most part to aptly complement the drama. I was particularly impressed with the strong showing from Anne Hall as Turing's admirer Pat Green and felt that of the remainder, there were five solid performances and in my opinion only two notably weaker players.

The director Chris Frost opted for a simple approach to staging, with very few costume changes or props, and this worked well with the ancient, dark spaces of the theatre to conjure the musty atmosphere necessary to many of the scenes. If a different mood was required, a picnic cloth or spotlight seemed to do the trick.

In contrast to this apt restraint, the wartime recordings and mathematical images used at the beginning and the decision to have Turing rationalise his final act of suicide inches from the audience showed real directorial flair. It left the audience in no doubt that they were watching a conscious, thoughtful interpretation of the play.

The only significant weaknesses in the production derived from the original script: the lengthy explanation of computing to an IT literate audience, along with several other monologues, and Whitmore's ironic refusal to explore the development and impact of Turing's sexuality in any significant or explicit depth.

Thus, in both their interpretation and performance of the play, the Abingdon Drama Club has put down a marker for the calibre of amateur productions at the Unicorn Theatre and, no doubt, raised a few concerns amongst those who prefer their drama light and uplifting or else disguised beneath pantomime costume and make-up.

Daniel Girnari


Flare Path
Wed 4th - Sat 7th July
Unicorn Theatre


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