22 August 2022
The joy of the Summer Play Festival at the Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth is the juxtaposition of productions, widely differing in genre, being performed one after another. Witness the lunacy of JEEVES & WOOSTER from last week to the sublimity of BREAKING THE CODE this. Such variety is not handed on a plate too often.
So laughter at PG Wodehouse gives way to the cerebral, articulate writing of Hugh Whitemore whose play of the rise and fall of Alan Turing is, in my book, a modern masterpiece of the theatre. This multi-layered, multi-faceted play is crafted with supreme skill and, though much of the story may be familiar, it still has the power to surprise and shock.
A black wall with two doorless openings, a contrasting grey diamond shape which extends over the floor – this is the daring set. Daring in its starkness, it’s lack of detail. It is abstract and brilliant – the perfect backdrop to this play. The action moves effortlessly from location to location with minimal props and furniture. It is an unfussy production which allows the words to do the work and asks of the audience to use their own imagination. Whitemore provides a shifting timeline for Turing’s life but such is the success of the writing and production, the audience is never in any doubt as to where they are in the story.
Undertaking the role of Turing is no small task. Steve Blacker-Barrowman provides a depth of humanity and vulnerability in his portrayal which is combined with the supreme intellect of the man and the attendant issues caused by being ‘on the spectrum’. His delivery of the long and complex speeches, instils in the viewer an understanding they may not realise they have; the audience is drawn in completely. His boy-like enthusiasm for his passionate interests is utterly infectious. The payment of money to win over his acquaintance Ron and the admission to the police and his own Mother of his homosexuality are devastating and moving moments; handled by the performers to perfection. Though the stammer is slightly inconsistent at times, Blacker-Barrowman’s performance is mesmerising and one which will stay with those who witness it for many a long day.
The supporting characters are equally strongly written and performed. Mark Laverty is impressive as the dogged police investigator, frustrated by Turing’s need to be honest and Simon Chappell is just ideal as the absent-minded genius Dillwyn Knox; Turing’s boss at Bletchley Park – a wonderful humane performance. Rachel Fletcher-Hudson’s deeply sensitive portrayal as Turing’s Mother illustrates how ignorance of her son’s work was never bliss for her. Rosie Edwards’ perfectly modulated Pat Green, Turing’s work colleague, is a delight, her quiet devastation on realising she can never have a relationship with him is spot on. Charlie Bryant gives depth to Ron Miller, the trigger for Turing’s arrest, in a small but vital role. Likewise as the security services man, John Smith, Pete Picton is impressively threatening and powerful. Samuel Tucker takes on the dual role as Turing’s school friend whose intellect he admired, Christopher Morcom, and his Greek lover Nikos; the one he could communicate so easily with and the other whom he couldn’t. Tucker provides each with great sensitivity and warmth.
As the play progresses so Whitemore provides more information about the subject of his play and about the times in which he lived. Social, political and sexual matters are all looked at and the treatment of Turing (and many others) is illustrated graphically without fuss or frenzy but with a frightening starkness.
Max Bex Roberts has directed with a deep confidence in his cast and his source material. From the set – beautifully and atmospherically lit by Joe Underwood – to the use of stunning underscoring during the longer speeches; this production has been handled with exquisite control by a talented and smart director.
As a piece of dramatic storytelling, it doesn’t get much better than this – the audience are engrossed throughout – and if you are not knocked for six by the very final scene then I would be most surprised.
First performed in 1986, BREAKING THE CODE, remains as powerful and pertinent as it did then and this extremely fine production deserves to be seen.
From 29 August – 3 September, the Summer Season continues with Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy, HOW THE OTHER HALF LOVES.
CAST & CREATIVES
ALAN TURING – STEVE BLACKER-BARROWMAN
DILLWYN KNOX – SIMON CHAPPELL
MICK ROSS – MARK LAVERTY
SARA TURING – RACHEL FLETCHER-HUDSON
RON MILLER – CHARLIE BRYANT
PAT GREEN – ROSIE EDWARDS
CHRISTOPHER MORCOM/NIKOS – SAMUEL TUCKER
JOHN SMITH – PETE PICTON
WRITER – HUGH WHITEMORE
DIRECTOR – MAX BEX ROBERTS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
PHOTO CREDIT – MAX BEX ROBERTS
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS