Breaking the Code

Scroll this

Breaking the Code

Theatre Rhinoceros


This review appeared in The Piedmont Post March 18, 2015

John Fisher, director and star of Theatre Rhinoceros’s Breaking the Code: The Alan Turing Story, does a great job inhabiting his role. He frequently breaks into a half-mad grin that seems more about an internal than an external conversation, which seems appropriate for a man known for his great mathematical mind. His body language is alternately playful and nervous, suggesting a restless mind impatient with the foibles of mere mortals. Turing, a forefather of the computer as we now know it, is most famous for having cracked the “Enigma” code used by the Germans during the Second World War, and is also known for being a victim of the anti-gay laws in England in the 40s and 50s. The rest of cast holds their own as Turing’s family, lovers, and associates at Bletchley Park, where the code breaking was done. At Bletchley, Turing is befriended by Pat Green (Kirsten Peacock) and Dilwyn Knox (Val Hendrickson), who for the most part accept Turing as he is, but the government that relied on him ultimately persecutes him for his homosexuality. The story is now well known—forced to take estrogen as a condition of his probation, Turing ultimately dies young in what is commonly presumed to be a suicide. Breaking the Code does not provide new information about this story, but it offers the audience a chance to hear some of Turing’s thoughts about the human mind and the possibility of thoughts happening without it. At one point Turing tells his lover Ron Miller (Justin Lucas) a story about being trapped in a building with a big brain. In order to escape, Turing explains, he has to beat this big brain at chess. He is not able to win, but he finds that by providing the brain with illogical equations, such as two plus two equals five, he leads the brain to kill itself. The scene reflects the absurd illogic of the anti-gay laws and calls Orwell’s Big Brother to mind. The play seems to ask, how can and why should a person be other than themselves? It offers some wonderful food for thought about the nature of the self and of the mind, but it seems at times to linger a little too long in the ideas, and with Turing’s odd charm. I had the feeling that subject matter was so enchanting to the writer and actors that they lost the narrative through-line a bit. Nonetheless, it’s a well-done piece about a very interesting subject, and it makes a fine live theater counterpoint to the many books and films about Turing.