Breaking the Code
By Hugh Whitemore
Directed by David Bell
Queensland University of Technology
Season was from 8-12 August 2017
Breaking the Code is the story of Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician who played a role in breaking the Enigma Code used during World War II by German forces to encrypt their communications. It also covers the personal side of his life as a gay man in a world that criminalised, prosecuted and persecuted homosexuality. Turing is also credited with being the father of computing, believing that a machine could be designed to imitate human thinking and eventually have artificial intelligence. Unfortunately he committed suicide in 1954 in relative obscurity at the age of 41.
Alan Turing, was superbly brought to life by Martin Moolman. The program provided eight things people may not have known about Turing and from reading these and then watching .the play, it was easy to see he was not an easy man to get along with. He had very set views about science and mathematics and what could be, and could not fathom why other people did not share or understand his ideas of reality.
He was also very forthright and told people the truth, to his own detriment in the end. His mother, in particular, did not understand and was embarrassed by his passion, hoping he would study the classics instead. There was a strained relationship between Turing and his mother (Chloe Brisk), except towards the end when he confesses to her that he is being prosecuted for “gross indecency”.
The rest of the cast were excellent in their respective roles as Detective Ross (Mitchell Bourke), Ron Miller (Brendan Perez-Compton) – Turing’s lover, Dilwyn Knox (Alex Neal) and Pat Green (Tatum Mottin/Samantha Lush) – Turing’s work colleagues at Bletchley Park, and Christopher Morcom – Turing’s first love and schoolboy friend, and Nikos – Turing’s final Greek lover (both played by Daniel Gabriel). As Nikos, Daniel spoke fluent Greek, as Nikos speaks no English and it is to this man, that Turing tells his most famous secret about the Enigma Code.
The scenes bounce backwards and forwards from the 1930s to the 1950s, in various places such as Manchester and Bletchley Park (the building in which the secret machinations related to the war occurred).
As in keeping with the Enigma Code, which was an excellent encryption device based on the alphabet and concentric circles so that no one code was breakable without the base key, turning letters on the backdrop eventually reveal the year and venue accompanied by the sound of clattering keys. The backdrop was also used to great use to, at times, project what was happening on the stage, but from an aerial point of view, or running footage of the era. Towards the end of the play, the backdrop displays the story of Turing’s life in ever growing chapters, similar to that provided by a DVD movie.
The play used a double circular stage assisting with the moving of props and characters. The scene where Turing is making his statement to the police about having an affair with another man used the circular stage to great effect, with Det. Ross sitting at his desk in the centre, while the two men involved, gave their stories while rotating slowly. This allowed for separation of the characters and their respective stories – Turing’s a naïve, innocent version of events – meeting, drinks, dinner, chatting and eventually sexual companionship, whereas Miller’s version was reasonably similar except for throwing Turing under the bus, so to speak, and vowing never to do it again to escape a prison sentence. Turing, however, accepts chemical castration as his sentence, a year’s worth of oestrogen injections which left him impotent and also caused him to grow breasts.
The lighting was superbly done, with coloured lights creating mood and splashing dots of colour on the floor and spotlights interspersed to provide emphasis.
The ast and crew was made up of QUT Bachelor of Fine Art students, some only in their second year. Under the tutelage of Director, David Bell, they produced an exceptionally fine piece of work, beautifully choreographed from the changing of scenes to the lighting work to the actors themselves. This up and coming young talent will be entertaining audiences around Brisbane, Australia and more than likely the rest of the world, in the years to come.
I thoroughly enjoyed this play. It was well acted, well put together and orchestrated, and brought to life a man who is not well known. Perhaps the saddest thing of the whole play, was when his mother went to collect his personal belongings from the police after his suicide (something she refused to accept he would have done), was that she had no idea why he had been awarded his OBE.