Alan Turing is not a household name. The father of computer science and cryptanalyst who played a major role in deciphering German codes in the Second World War is the subject of Breaking the Code, Footlight Players’ first play in this year’s late night series. But you wouldn’t gather how important Turing really was to computers as we know it or his influence in the war effort from this play.
Breaking the Code focuses much more on Turing’s other life — his life as a gay man in 1950s England, which one assumes led to his eventual suicide at the age of 41. The play begins with Turing (Robin Burke) in the police station reporting a petty home invasion. This report will eventually lead to his criminal prosecution and punishment for his sexuality.
Burke, whose British accent is the most consistent throughout the show, plays Turing well. He masters Turing’s British stammer and awkwardness, never faltering despite being involved in nearly every scene.
Yet he also doesn’t excel, although this isn’t entirely his fault. The script seems slightly stale. Since the play was written in 1986, stories similar to Turing’s have been told and told and told. The discrimination that gay men and women faced (and still face) for their sexuality can be seen in countless plays and read about in novels and the news. To make them mean something more, one has to emotionally connect to the audience. And Breaking the Code does not do that. It seems to focus purely on the surface of Turing’s life: the surface of his emotional relationships and the surface of his career.
Besides the lack of emotional penetration, the play is solid. A very simple set of two tables and a collection of chairs is used throughout the play, with set changes (or table changes) used to signal the transition from an office to a home. The costumes are well-done and appropriate to the play’s period, as are the make-up and hair. Jay Danner’s portrayal of the officer Mick Ross is well acted, and Nancy Fiedler also does well as Turing’s concerned mother, but her lack of an English accent is puzzling.
Another puzzling part of the show was why the director chose to use the same actor as Turing throughout the whole play, flashbacks and all. The most noticeable example is a flashback to when Turing was a young boy bringing home his friend, Christopher Morcom (Anthony Massarotto), from boarding school to meet his family. Morcom looks like he could be in high school, yet in the flashback Turing is still in his 40s. Eventually it became clear that it was a flashback, but during intermission audience members did discuss this strange decision.
While Turing’s life is undoubtedly important and interesting, Footlight’s production of Breaking the Code could have done with a deeper, more emotional connection with Turing and his life.