Review: Breaking the Code

This Drama Barn production leaves reviewer Jaz Hayward “crying buckets”

photo courtesy of Dramasoc

photo courtesy of Dramasoc

Rating: ★★★★☆

If I could only use the one word to describe Breaking The Code, I’d say: curious. Before the play starts the audience sees, a ghostly character writes equations on a chalkboard whilst ominous music plays. For those who knew little of the godfather of computer science’s life it was the first and by no means final reveal that this is a play that tugs your heartstrings.

The play revolves around the life of Alan Turing, the scientist and mathematician who famously cracked Germany’s enigma code in World War II. Despite this, he was harassed in his later years for his homosexuality. In the wrong hands a play with these themes could have been excessively sentimental or a caricature of both upper class and homosexual stereotypes. Nonetheless, Ryalls handles Whitemore’s script delicately and the result was a poignant and thought provoking piece.

It was hard not to be engrossed by Sam Thorpe-Spinks’ portrayal of the stuttering awkward character of Turing. Equally as dominating on the stage was Edd Riley as Ross, the police officer suspicious of Turing from the off set. The two actors had wonderful chemistry with Ross’s northern roguishness bouncing excellently off the shy and idiosyncratic Turing. Nevertheless, though Ross’s intimidating nature certainly makes us feel great sympathy for Turing, he is never a character you can quite hate, his occasional humorous quips reminding us that is a play that is criticising a certain society and not certain people.

Praise must be given to George Morgan for his ability to play Ron Miller as a deep and difficult character with both the rough characteristics of the thief but also his clear confusion over his own sexuality and morals. Again, in the wrong hands, this particular character could’ve been a simple caricature.

The simplistic staging worked well and the use of the binary code to decorate the floor and wall was a nice touch. It reminded us of the mathematical backbone of this emotional story, whilst not distracting from the play itself. I also rather liked the use of the blackboard to determine the different scenes. However, moving it from scene to scene did seem sometimes unnecessarily time consuming and there were places where its presence didn’t quite seem to fit.

Although this is by far one of the better productions that I have seen at the drama barn it is not without it’s faults. The double casting of George Morgan as both Ron Miller and Nikos, a Greek lover of Turing’s, was confusing. Though he played the latter well, it seemed to dilute the impact of his earlier much more thought provoking performance.

Sometimes there was little emphasis on what greatness this man truly achieved. This was a play that focused, ultimately on his emotional hardship, but I was sadly failed to fully acknowledge Turing’s achievement of breaking the code.

Breaking The Code was an impressive piece of student drama. I left the theatre wanting to learn more of such an interesting man…and crying buckets.