To Kill a Machine is a refreshing antidote to the recent sanitzing of the Alan Turing story while standing on its own feet as a self-contained drama.
Don’t expect some wishy-washy story of a nice geeky guy who happened to be homosexual. No, this is a hard-hitting look at the nature of humanity when confronted with a person who won’t – or perhaps just can’t – conform.
Rick Yale, Gwydion Rhys, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper
The underlying theme is universal and could have taken all manner of victims of truth through the ages, people who would not lie, confirm, bite their tongue, lead a double life, whatever, to be accepted or at least survive in their society.
What makes the Turing story so painful is not that he was a man who helped win the war but that children born in the decade he was persecuted, prosecuted, endured chemical castration and ultimately death have achieved pretty near full equality in his country.
Rick Yale and Gwydion Rhys
Finely directed by Angharad Lee, Catrin Fflur Huws play also enabled the use of humour to contrast with the darkness of the story; the adoption of false persona by game show hosts while manipulating the game and the contestants and contrasting Turing’s some might say simplistic honesty with the state’s duplicity and his friends and colleagues’ ability to lie to survive.
Yes, there is a sex scene that made some people in the audience titter in embarrassment and the disgusting medical aversion therapy and chemical castration clearly shocks. But this story is bigger than hanging attitudes to homosexuality – the tenant of truth and honesty, not being a lying machine.
The play takes the form of a game show that is used as the framework of the story telling. So we cut to episodes in Alan Turing’s life (although interestingly not too much on Bletchley Park) as The Imitation Game progresses. The Imitation Game is a man and a woman’s gender has to be identified just by asking them questions. I am no mathematical or computing expert but it is apparently the on/ off, yes/ no, basis of computing and other mathematical systems. This then becomes a look at what is truth, can a machine be “taught” to lie and to think. In the context of this drama it is transported into personal interactions, whether a game show or a trial or just two people talking. Do we really want to uncover truth or do we want the right answer?
Gwydion Rhys and Francois Pandolfo
Angharad Lee’s direction deftly took the four performers through the intricacy of the game show cut with biographical scene. This enabled a fast-paced way of shifting time and space by making episodes in his life rounds in the game. Cordellia Ashwell’s set is like the cogs on the machines Turing developed to solve the German wartime codes. The characters move around and get on and off, for the distinct rounds of the game and pivotal moments in Turing’s life. Off to the side of the stage conspiratorial discussions take place as “the state” works out how to use and ultimately destroy Turing. My only concern is following exactly who these people are, a problem on all shows when players have to take on multiple roles, and their relationship with the events that lead to Turning’s destruction.
The author tells us that the play was also influenced by the film Cabaret and this wave of weaving “real-life” stories into a stage show (the play within the play sort of thing) works exceptionally well.
As the not of this world Alan Turning Gwydion Rhys gave an empathetic yet troubling performance that quite rightly left us unsettled. In some ways the portrayal is more of someone who would now be regarded as an autistic person and respected as such and the homosexuality is possibly secondary. In fact, it is his autism rather than sexuality that is most striking in this play. Of course, persecution of gay people remains why Turing is quite rightly a cause celebre. But I was as intrigued by the consideration of the remaining stigmatisation of people on the autism spectrum and what their view on the world tells us about ourselves. I am slipping into huge generalisation of course but the arts need stereotypes to tell stories in code we have to try to decipher.
Rick Yale and Robert Harper
The work required and got close ensemble work with multiple roles taken by the rest of the cast. a range of roles with Robert Harper one of the game show hosts and The Interrogator with necessarily slick and good-looking Rick Yale played the game’ second host as well as the casual sexual partner and the man in the dock who could lie. We had a warm, delightful performance by Francois Pandolfo as the person who it would appear was Turning’s great love, Christopher and also of his brother John.
Taliesin Swansea Friday, May 16 and Ammanford The Miners, May 21 and Newtown Theatre Haven, May 22.