If you have a chance to go to Manchester to see the play ‘Breaking the Code’ at the Royal Exchange Theatre in St Ann’s Square – GO!!
The play, by Hugh Whitemore which first appeared in 1986, is about Alan Turing the genius now well-known for his work at Bletchley Park during the war, and his subsequent work on computers which probably laid the foundations for the world we have today. He was a great mathematician and scientist, who subsequently died from poisoning, most probably by eating an apple which may have been contaminated with cyanide… somehow or other. Turing is also a hero to many for the way he endured difficulties because of his homosexuality, which was then against the law.
The story, for most people coming to the play, is well-known; however the title might deceive some, who think it will only be about the activities at Bletchley Park where Turing worked to crack the Nazi’s enigma code. This is an aspect of the play, but other codes are broken – social and sexual codes of the time, and in a way the character of Turing himself is encoded and the play seeks to crack his ‘code’.
The different scenes in the play look at Turing at different stages of his life, when he was an adolescent at school, as a younger and older man, in his relationship with his mother, his friends, his colleagues and his lovers, when he was arrested and tried for indecency. The play deftly weaves backwards and forwards in time, and is intriguing, touching (very touching) funny and awe-inspiring.
The Royal Exchange which opened in 1975, is a theatre in the round, a structure within the old exchange building, which traded in spun yarn and finished goods throughout the world. The building is magnificent, with a graceful interior, light and airy and really beautiful. The theatre is small and intimate and we were fortunate to be sitting in the first row, behind the £10 banquettes.
I didn’t know what to expect; I have read novels and history books about Turing in connection to Bletchley Park, and have seen programmes about his other work, and his problems with the law and the dreadful way he was treated.
The stage is empty, apart from the occasional use of a couple of chairs and an old table with drawers. Lighted rods descend occasionally to give the appearance of rooms or corridors, it is spare, sparse, effective. There are eight people in the cast, and everyone gave an outstanding performance, every single one of the actors was magnificent. However, Daniel Rigby who played Turing, shone, truly shone; an amazing, mesmerising performance. Sometimes I forgot I was in the theatre, I was so totally caught up in it.
I won’t go into more detail – I don’t want to spoil it if you do go, but it is one of the best, if not the best play I have ever seen. It’s something I’ll remember for a very long time, and if I have a conversation with you, prepare for to go on about it at some length!