The Gaslight Theatre’s latest show, “Breaking the Code”, provides a riveting insight into the life of mathematical genius Alan Turing, a hugely influential figure from history who was not only the forefather of computer science and artificial intelligence, but also a key figure in bringing an end to World War II through his instrumental work in breaking the German Enigma code.
The play follows the 2015 film release of “The Imitation Game”, which focused heavily on the mathematical side of Turing’s life with his breaking of the Enigma Code. But this play, whilst covering Turing’s work at the Bletchley Park codebreaking centre, encompasses more of Turing’s personal life, including his childhood, his outlook on life, and the gripping drama and conflict that came with being a homosexual during the early 20th century.
“It’s a different approach and a different aspect of Turing’s story,” explains the director, Cambridge local Dave Stearns. “I always try to pick plays that are well written, and this is wonderfully written. There’s all these little seeds throughout it that all come together, I like that sort of clever story.”
Dave assures show-goers that this isn’t just a play for computer geeks, “You don’t need to understand the mathematics and the computers and all that side of things, because it’s a human story, it’s about his relationships, how he dealt with situations, what drove him, the philosophical questions he had… like how he says, ‘can a mind exist outside of a human body’. That’s really what’s driving him all the way through.”
Dave adds that the real beauty of the play is that it leaves viewers with a sense of wonder and even greater questions about life itself.
Hamilton actor Alexander Norris, who starred in the Gaslight Theatre’s previous shows “Out of Order” and “The 39 Steps”, says he was both daunted and delighted to be a part of another amazing Cambridge production, this time acting in the lead role of Alan Turing.
“I’ve really enjoyed the atmosphere at the Gaslight Theatre, the people, being part of the show… I actually auditioned for the role of Ron Miller, so I was amazed that I got this part, it’s been awesome, and daunting too!”
Norris spent a lot of time researching his character and creates an excellent real-life persona of Alan Turing, with the subtle mannerisms and manner of speaking quite recognisable to the genius himself.
His supporting cast provide an excellent balance of different elements, from humour and wisdom to debauchery and drama. Turing’s mother, played by Cambridge actress Sara Young, provides a good deal of light-hearted humour in amongst what is a rather gripping and intriguing drama, evoking chuckles from the crowd throughout the play. And in a simple twist of fate, she even shares the same first name as the real-life Sara Turing!
“That makes it easy doesn’t it!” Sara laughs. “I really liked the play,” she adds, “I think it’s just so tragic that the man’s life was cut so short, I wonder where we could be now in terms of advances if he had still been alive, I could imagine a conversation between him and Stephen Hawking!
“And then there’s the question of, did he kill himself or not, and my character firmly believes that he did not, it’s not the sort of thing he would do. So that was really interesting to me.
“I was delighted to get the role.”
The real-life characteristics of the people portrayed in the play seem to really shine through, and the relationships between characters are an intriguing focus throughout. Viewers tend to hang onto every word of their conversations; at times you get a good chuckle, and at others you’re simply glued to the story line.
One audience member said, “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
Another Cambridge actor in the play, John Kelleher, plays the role of Dillwyn Knox, a member of the code-breaking team at Bletchley, who was somewhat of a mentor to Turing during his time there. He provides heart-warming guidance and advice to Turing when it comes to his personal strifes, giving perspective and common sense as well as a great sense of humour. At one point he says to Turing, “Even when all scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain unanswered.”
Towards the end of the play, Turing himself (Alexander Norris) says, “In the end it’s not breaking the code that matters, it’s where you go from there, that’s the real problem.”
The play is quite simply a brilliant story with a range of interesting and insightful elements to enjoy. It is rated R, and not suitable for young children. The show continues this week with performances taking place this Friday 8th September, Saturday 9th September – with general admission or dinner-and-show options available – and a matinee performance on Sunday. Shows continue throughout most of next week, concluding on Saturday 16th September. It’s all happening at the Gaslight Theatre, a beautiful historic theatre in Cambridge which provides an intimate and captivating setting for any play, particularly with this gripping and thought-provoking drama.
Tickets are available to PaperPlus Cambridge or online at eventfinda.co.nz.