ABOUT THE PLAY
BREAKING THE CODE
by Hugh Whitemore
Directed by Kevin Elliott
To be performed in
The Theatre at the Old Fire Station,
George Street, Oxford
13 – 17 December 2011
Alan Turing broke the Nazi codes used in World War 2, and has the gratitude of the Prime Minister. His sheer passion for learning seems bound to lead him to even greater success. But can his private life remain private in the moral fervour of 1950s Britain? What help can he expect from those around him, and what betrayals will he face? How much room does his society have for those that won’t conform?
Hugh Whitemore’s play covers the life of Alan Turing, the Bletchley Park code breaker who laid the foundations for modern computing. Described by Time Magazine as “elegant and poignant”, this award winning play depicts the life of this most extraordinary man, his unique talent for innovation, his eccentricity, his hunger for companionship, and above all, his sheer humanity.
A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
For a first time director, choice of play is critical. I'd been told that a director should have fallen in love with the play if they were going to do it justice. I'd certainly fallen for Breaking the Code. I'm passionate about promoting the benefits of science and technology, and I also have a passionate regard for the sheer power of theatre to tell a story. So this biographical piece seemed to be the ideal fusion of desires.
Was I drawn to Alan Turing's character? It was easy to spot similarities. We're both individualists, with a healthy contempt for undeserved authority. We've both taken an unusual path through education and work, though I can't claim to have invented as Turing did. We both belong to marginalised groups, Turing because of his sexuality, myself through disability. We both enjoy games, and asking the question "what if". We're both unfettered by any need to observe convention or old ways of thinking. I like to think Turing would have been amused by my habit of hunting down a group of superstitious actors so that I can shout "Macbeth" at them. I can't claim to have anything of Turing's mathematical genius, or any of his dedication or sheer creativity, but perhaps as a pale imitation of him I can help others tell his story.
I believe the play has a simple message, and one I absolutely agree with. Don't rely on 'isms'. Ethical theories and political systems are handy frameworks to build thinking around, but none of them works all the time. Any 'ism' taken to an extreme will cause more problems than it solves. 'Isms' are just models, inaccurate, incomplete, and often inconsistent. The best results come through new thinking. As Turing says in the play, "Each problem - each decision - requires fresh ideas, fresh thought".
I could talk about the narrative power of the piece, about the way it flashes through time to slowly reveal the thoughts and feelings of the characters. I could talk about the relative simplicity of its staging, always a plus for a beginner director. But hopefully the play itself will succeed where these words fail to do justice to this most intense of stories.