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Sydney review - Breaking the Code: a brilliant piece of writing

By Paul Kiely

Breaking the Code

By Hugh Whiteman

Directed by Anthony Skuse

A New Theatre Production united with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

New Theatre

542 King Street


Season: 11 February – 5 March 2022. Bookings:

Duration: 120 minutes plus interval

The story of Alan Turing, Britain’s legendary code-breaker during WWII, is full of irony and paradox: hired to help win the battle for freedom over tyranny, the gifted mathematician must belie his homosexuality to avoid oppression from his own country; in reporting the crime of a home burglary, the spotlight is turned on himself and then faces a charge of ‘gross indecency’; and, as an atheist, he sees complex mathematical features abound in nature, causing him to ask “Is God a mathematician”?

‘Breaking the Code’ by Hugh Whitemore is a brilliant piece of writing. Alan is depicted at three distinct stages of life: the awakening adolescent schoolboy (Ewen Peddley); the confident wartime head of research (Harry Reid) entrusted to decode the German’s Enigma machine; and the naïve, post-war victim (Steve Corner) of Britain’s rigid moral compass.

There is drama, pathos and tragedy, sometimes intertwined. In conveying key elements of Alan Turing’s personal struggles, Whitemore also manages to succinctly explain for the layperson, the technical challenges of breaking the Enigma code. This scientific achievement is credited with shortening the war in Europe by two years!

There are five key relationships in Alan Turing’s life depicted in ‘Breaking the Code.’

His mother, Sara Turing (Leilani Loau / Jess Vince-Moin) is a caring but unassuming figure, always present in the significant moments in his life.

Christopher Morcom/Nikos (Dallas Reedman) will be his eternal soul mate who navigated the school years with their shared secret intimacy. Alan in later years remembers “much of the work I’ve done leads me back to Christopher.”

A colleague working on the Enigma project at Bletchley is Patricia Green (Bridget Haberecht). This is Alan’s perfect platonic love connection, as they understand each other with complete honesty.

A torrid affair with Ron Miller (Igor Bulanov) brings about the downfall of Alan Turing. Twenty years his junior, Ron is a hustler and petty thief. His actions cause Alan to report a burglary which leads to an admission and ultimately Alan’s arrest.

The other great relationship in ‘Breaking the Code’ is with Dilwynn Knox (Martin Portus). Dilwynn is the manager at Bletchley Park who interviews Alan for the job and subsequently tries to help him find a balance between the accepted sexual mores of the time and his own behaviour.

In addition to Turing’s work on the Enigma project, he subsequently made great leaps in the field of computers (electronic brains) and artificial intelligence. The play makes note of Turing’s goal for the “integration of thinking and feeling” in automations and that “the machine must have free will.” You might like to spare a thought for Alan Turing the next time you are speaking with Alexa.

Under Anthony Skuse’s fine direction, the cast and creatives were first class. Using a simple set, changes were seamless as the audience were diverted to gentle, slow-moving black and white images projected overhead. Non-performing actors remained on set to observe, underlining the obvious voyeuristic, homoerotic themes of the play.

In a discussion with his friend Patricia about the Fibonacci Sequence (see Google), Alan declares that “the code breaking process always begins with a guess.” It is a pity that, despite his mathematical genius, Alan failed as a planner in the intricate chess game of human relationships.

There is much more to ‘Breaking the Code’ than beating the Germans; it is about breaking social barriers.


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