Breaking the Code Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester
Known as the father of the modern computer, Alan Turing’s passion for mathematics and eccentric personality has been portrayed on the big screen numerous times and most recently by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game (2014).
The former University of Manchester professor fixated on the power of a computer to rival human thought and cracked Nazi ciphers with his Bombe machine. While artificial life shaped many of the screen adaptations, the Royal Exchange has taken a personal route.
Directed by Rob Hastie, the set holds Turing (Daniel Rigby) in a square light installation made of suspended rods. The clean and simple design draws you into a few fundamental characters in Turing’s life, while the lights spark to present each new scene.
The play begins with Turing entering a police station to report a robbery by a young man he had previously had an affair with. Despite perceptions of Turing as a multifaceted, hyperconscious being he was unable to decipher the limits of others around him. Turing’s relentless honesty is shown to be his downfall as his confession eventually sees him convicted for gross indecency. Homosexual acts were considered a criminal offense in the 1950s and Turing suffered horrendous treatment under the U.K government for which he once served, later dying of cyanide poisoning at the age of 41 in 1954.
The play chooses to focus on Turing’s earlier relationships, where his power of reason is revealed as the component that ignites his passion for mathematics and computer science. His friendship with mathematician, Joan Clarke developed into a proposal in 1941 despite immediately telling her of his “homosexual tendencies”. The interlinking of equations and love also starts with the death of his childhood friend, Christopher Morcom, who emerges as the foundations for Turing’s links between the mind living on after death.
Hastie's personal take on Turing’s life is subtle but tragic. His utopic ideals that the mind can live forever allow us to dream beyond the limitation of the human body. It is only fitting that this production does not label Turing a victim but offers audiences a sense of the witty, talented and optimistic man whose abstract reasoning helped break the Enigma code.