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Review: Breaking the Code

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Alan Turing’s name and accomplishments were introduced to a new generation through the success of the film The Imitation Game. This film focused heavily on Turing’s work at Bletchley and cracking the Enigma code. Breaking the Code reverses this outlook.

The play focuses on the personal life of Turing, particularly his 1952 trial for gross indecency.  Turing’s achievements make up the background of the play, as the focus is placed on how his relationships and personal experiences have shaped him and contributed to his many ground breaking achievements.

Daniel Rigby plays the role of Alan Turing and is magnificent. Rigby’s Turing is social inept and awkward, but this does not make the audience feel uncomfortable. Quite the opposite in fact. Turing’s quirkiness is endearing and you can not help but feel in awe of his genius.

The play did not shy away from featuring mathematics and theoretical computer science, as Turing went on rants about the topics. However, these speeches were not boring but transfixing, despite baffling most of the audience. This was aided by the fact that most of the other characters in the play were in awe of Turing as well.

The play was centred on Alan Turing, but all the characters in the play were essential to the storyline. The entire cast were phenomenal in their roles.  Geraldine Alexander as Turing’s essentially caring and supportive mother. Natalie Drew as Pat Green, the maths genius who falls in love with Turing. Harry Egan as Ron Miller, who is the young man involved in the trial along with Turing. Dimitri Gripari as Christopher Morcom, Turing’s childhood friend and as Nikos, who is essentially a Greek God who brings passion back to Turing’s life. This was Gripari’s professional debut and there is no doubt that he will be going far.  The production also features Mark Oostreveen as John Smith, Raad Rawi as Dillwyn Knox and Phil Cheadle as Mick Ross.  The remarkable performances by the cast made for a truly gripping and emotive play.

The other part that made the play such a joy to watch was the script. Hugh Whitemore’s play first premiered in 1986 and is based loosely on Andrew Hodges book; Alan Turing: The Enigma. Despite the play being centralised around Turing’s trial, the tone was surprisingly upbeat. The socially awkward charm of Turing mixed with the differing personalities of the characters meant the audience were often in fits of laughter at the awkward character exchanges. The success of the play was due to fantastic naturalistic acting combined with an excellent script. The play was never made for laughs, but the straight nature of many of the characters and the baffling responses of Turing meant you could not help but laugh.

The strength of the play was that it did not dwell on the injustice of the trial, which was perfectly clear to the audience as Turing’s only crime was being a homosexual. Instead the play showcased the rich and detailed relationships Turing had with family, friends and colleagues, which created an emotionally charged play. It also mentions Turing’s research at the University of Manchester which is sure to ignite some university pride.

Every aspect of Breaking the Code was a success, not least the set design. The simple yet extremely effective use of lights to create different rooms was brilliant. This was best showcased when action flipped between two different scenes in the second half of the play.  A cube of LED strip lights created the image of a police station then with one flash of the cube transformed into Turing’s house. This flipping between the two locations happened repeatedly throughout the scene to great effect. The simple set meant the play could switch between locations as well as time with tremendous easy.  A unique design concept  that definitely worked.

Breaking the Code is not one to be missed, from its fantastic script to sensational acting it truly delivers on every aspect. Theatre can be expensive so why not take advantage of the student ticket offers, as Royal Exchange sell 100 tickets for just £6 every Friday night. Get them here. Breaking the Code at the Royal Exchange Theatre is running till the 19th of November. Book tickets here.

Tags: Alan Turing, Breaking the Code, Daniel Rigby, Manchester, Royal Exchange Theatre, theatre review

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