Play: Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore

Performed at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester and directed by Robert Hastie

   Breaking the Code was first staged in 1986 and 30 years later, the Royal Exchange has chosen to revive it. It is interesting to consider the transformation to everyday life and culture which computers and technology have driven in this time. Public attitudes towards homosexuality have also changed beyond recognition. A modern audience will watch the play in the full knowledge of this which adds to the poignancy of Turing's situation. Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician whose work at Bletchley Park in the Second World War was key to breaking the Enigma Code. His contribution was incalculable yet barely known by the public for many years. The play moves between his early life and war work and later times when he was working at Manchester University on the development of an 'electronic brain' now recognisable to us as the computer. Then through his own naivety, he incriminated himself to the police who chose to prosecute him for his sexuality, which was illegal at the time. The Establishment which had feted him under Churchill and awarded him the OBE, turned on him in a heartless and cruel way with devastating personal consequences.

    Daniel Rigby gave a marvellous performance as Turing, revealing him to be a character without guile but essentially private. There were moments throughout the play when all the cast shone. To highlight the women in this rather male world, Geraldine Alexander, as Turing's mother, Sara, conveyed beautifully the heartbreak she felt when her son admitted to her the situation he was in, whilst at the same time, managing to keep up a rather fragile front. Pat Green, as Nancy Drew, a colleague at Bletchley Park showed us their complicated if platonic relationship.  

    The set and lighting added to my enjoyment of the play, as lighting tubes in different permutations were raised and lowered to denote the various settings. In the opening scene in the police station, we were given the outlines of a cube, with its hints of the mathematical thinking which was Turing's life, allied with the feeling that you were looking into an invisible cage. Bletchley Park was delineated by just a couple of tubes of light yet we could imagine corridors and inner rooms without difficulty. Switches in time and place flowed as seamlessly as the lighting tubes moved into position. I would put this play high up in my all-time list of productions which I have seen at the Royal Exchange Theatre as it did not disappoint on any level.

In short: a riveting portrayal of the betrayal of one of Manchester and Britain's greatest minds.  


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