Much has been made of Alan Turing in the last few years, with the 2013 pardon of his crimes and the 2014 Oscar winning biopic, The Imitation Game. Breaking the Code is a 1986 play on Turing’s life as a national hero who helps end the war, but ends up persecuted by his country for being gay.
Should you see it?
Breaking the code is a different look at the life of Alan Turing. It’s an emotional play that shows the important relationships throughout Turing’s life, from a young school boy to being recruited by the government to help break the Nazi enigma code. It doesn’t heavily focus on Turing’s accomplishments as a computer scientist, almost undercutting his genius. Instead this play frames Turing as a sort of unintentional advocate for gay-rights. Perhaps from lack of social awareness or just naivety, Turing is portrayed as being an openly gay man, undeterred by the fact that homosexuality was a crime punishable by law.
As Alan Turing, Shaun Toohey gives a stellar performance. The play jumps between time periods and memories in Turing’s life, and Toohey is onstage for close to the duration of the three hour production. Toohey effortlessly takes the audience through Turing’s childhood and back only changing the nervous tics and stutters in his voice, showing off a confident developed character. With so much recent focus on Turing’s life, it’s refreshing to see a unique perspective on a character as complicated as Alan Turing was.
There are many nice moments from the supporting cast, including Tanner Flinn as Christopher who brought a gentle innocence to their childhood scenes, and Susan Monaghan as Alan’s Mother, Sara, who doted on him with love and criticism. It’s unfortunate to say that they are all rather forgettable as no other character is given the opportunity to have an emotional journey like Turing does.
I did feel the play was quite static as a result of director Klaas Van Weringh’s staging and production design choices. With fluid scene changes, this play demands staging that can transform many times within each act. While I appreciate the abstract set design from Robin Riddihough, meant to invoke the Fibonacci sequence, the gray walls and stark black lines reminded me more of a jail cell. This play is so dense with dialogue and little action, that the stark set and limited movement of the actors lead to some drawn out scenes that bored the audience. There was wonderful lighting design from John Solman that helped transition the audience from scene to scene. Costume designer Peggy Laverty did a good job reminding the audience that this was, in fact, a period piece.
Breaking the Code has some delicate poignant moments, brought to life by a talented group of actors. It’s an intellectual play about a scientist who helped end the war, but broke the social code. With such an outstanding lead performance it’s difficult not to recommend this play.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to hear what you think. Did you enjoy Shaun Toohey’s performance as Alan Turing? Did you compare this play to The Imitation Game? Does Breaking the Code do Alan Turing’s legacy justice? Join in the discussion in the comments below.
Breaking the Code runs at the Ottawa Little Theatre until May 23rd