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Progress Theatre - Breaking the Code

9th to 18th February 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Passion play

Breaking The Code, at Progress Theatre, Reading, from Thursday, February 9 to Saturday, February 18

Alan Turing without doubt was a dazzling mathematical genius. However, he was also a man troubled by life and demons.

He is known for his early prototype computer and for the amazing work as part of the team cracking the German Enigma code - a feat that some would argue turned the balance of the Second World War to the advantage of the Allies and saved many lives.

Yet, despite Turing's brilliance the hypocritical Fifties establishment, when computers were the size of wardrobes, disowned him as a security risk due to his overt homosexuality.

Under Spenser Rodd's direction, Turing played with ceaseless energy and conviction by relative newcomer to the Progress, Mark Simmonds gives a fascinating interpretation of the edgy and troubled Turing - all tics, stammer and sideways glances.

The root of the character finds itself exposed in a scene with his Bletchley Park senior, Dillwyn Knox. Peter Cockman's Knox is as equally baffled as I assume many of the audience were with Turing's complex and 'totally incomprehensible' explanation of the 'Entschiedungsproblem' and 'machines of the imagination'. It is both funny and revealing.

Nevertheless, whatever the mathematical insights whether understood or not, the play is about passion - passion for thought and life. A passion that led to a conviction, in 1952, for 'gross indecency', triggering events that sadly ended in suicide by cyanide in 1954.

He had 'broken the code' in many ways, but to his accuser Smith (Michael Shaw) it's more a case of sleeping with the wrong man - ie one without class or education.

Overall, it is a complex and thought-provoking work that owes its drama to its lead. Of course, the supporting cast, notably Jane Bertrand as his mother and Stephanie Weller as Pat Greenall, the woman who loved him, stylishly did their bit in filling in the gaps about Turing's life and obsessions.

Playwright Hugh Whitemore's Breaking the Code bases itself on Alan Hodge's book Alan Turing, The Enigma. It's a good place to start if this play fires your curiosity to know more. Maybe then you even get to understand the 'Entschiedungsproblem' and explain it to me, or is life too short?

It has been said 'that plays about scientists and their work are rare: good plays about them rarer still'.

This is a good play that is educational, informed, certainly entertaining and probably one of the best productions in Progress' recent repertoire.