Archive for January, 2019

Breaking the Code, Hugh Whitemore

The member who chose the book did so having not read the play; he had however seen the play on it’s original run in 1986. He noted that this was in a grim period of time for theatre, and pretty much everything else, due to the onset of the AIDS epidemic, adding that the play was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise conservative time. Having read the play, he felt it was a very sympathetic portrait of Turing at a very poignant moment (I presume for both Turing and the time when the play came out).
The group agreed that the play ‘stands up’ still, with one member commenting that it scores on three levels: portraying Turing as a strange, but attractive character; providing an interesting and, as one other member added, accessible presentation of electro-mechanical facts, and how tragic the outcome of Turing’s life was.
A member who found the play to be enjoyable, emotional and funny compared it to the recent film, The Imitation Game; feeling that there was less focus on the war in the play, but that it discussed the real life impact of Turing’s work, which the film focused less on.
The naivety of Turing’s character, when in discussion with the police officer, was highlighted and his admission was thought of as unnecessary.  However; the member who raised this had read the play twice and, on second reading, considered the feelings he had himself towards the police when he was younger, which was implicit trust . He therefore sympathised with Turing’s naivety. The same member humourously referred to Turing as the ‘classic’ engineer; excellent with hands-on work, but incapable of managing an engineering department.
There was interest in how faithful the play was to Turing’s life, with one member stating that, whilst they appreciated the artistry of the play, they would have liked to have got to the facts of the matter, rather than any potential fiction. The member who chose the book pointed out that the play had been based on a novel, which some expressed interest in reading.
In addition to these points, how the character of Turing was presented was of significant interest, with people feeling he was personable, flirty on occasions, although exhibiting a touch of Asperger’s; especially with regard to his confession of his supposed crime to the police officer.
One member felt that the way in which the character was presented was very much as an expression of Turing’s work and theories; in opposition, almost. Where as the character is at times blunt, ordered and controlled (chaining his mug to the radiator being a prime example), like numbers (which he calls his friends), he is also rebellious (being unashamedly recognised as homosexual in his work place), questioning and disregarding of traditional rules (for example, when he bypasses the usual hierarchical steps and writes to Churchill directly to request the equipment needed for his work).  Turing challenged mathematical order and laws using a similarly anarchic approach.
This led on to a conversation about Turing’s mechanical brain and how it could learn from the results of innumerable binary computations; how essential electronics was to the advancement of mechanics and how this mechanical device could potentially write sonnets and compose symphonies with all the feeling of a human being. Before long, however, the discussion had branched off in to the realms of chaos theory…
Although Turing was the clear focus of the play, the other characters were not overlooked. Particular sympathy was voiced over Pat, who appeared at various times as an esteemed colleague, potential paramour and career-up-the-spout wife and mother, with particular emphasis on Turing’s imaginings of how his life would have panned out had he married Pat; there appears to be no question that Pat would have consented to such a proposal.
The exchanges between Turing and the policeman were, as one member pointed out, reminiscent of Orton and appeared farcical at times. Another member likened the policeman to the character of Truscott from Loot.
Turing’s mother divided the group, with some considering her reaction to the announcement of his homosexuality as liberal and accepting and others feeling it was dismissed as a nonsensical eccentricity. Similarly, her explanation of his death was considered both brushed under the carpet, due the shame she felt about his homosexuality, and dismissed out of hand as an accident resulting from his harebrained experimenting. Regardless, the parallel between the supposed cause of Turing’s death and Snow White’s momentary demise was duly noted.
Knox’s numerous references to his failing memory interested one member, who felt it was in reference to the superiority of the mechanical brain over the human brain; whereas the human mind grows old and withers, the mechanical brain, in theory, is not subject to such limitations and continues to learn and amass knowledge exponentially.
Despite being but a hundred pages of dialogue, the play provoked a hearty and interesting discussion which we came close to cutting short (there were M&S mini beef Wellingtons to be had…)

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