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BWW Review: TO KILL A MACHINE, King's Head Theatre, April 12 2016

With the unlikely subtitle (after the books, films, television programmes and plays), "The untold story of Alan Turing", Catrin Fflur Huws' To Kill A Machine (at the King's Head Theatre until 23 April) gives us a distinctively theatrical and 21st century interpretation of Turing's interior life. Delivered all-through in a compact 60 minutes, it's an admirably focused approach to re-interpreting the man behind the myth.

The father of computer science and ace codebreaker is introduced to us as an awkward but brilliant schoolboy mathematician already exhibiting hesitancy in company and his gay, closeted, sexuality. There's a somewhat unconvincing bit about cracking the Nazis' Enigma Machine, but rather more about the ideas behind the Turing Machine, a fundamental breakthrough in computer programming and the source of much thought about artificial intelligence. The play is interested (like much of Phillip K Dick's work) about what divides the human from the machine and how the state conspired to destroy the humanity in one of its greatest men.

Gwydion Rhys looks uncannily like Turing and gets his mannered speech patterns right without ever tipping over into caricature - he shows some steel too when presented with untenable choices. He gets good support from Francis Pandolfo, who plays Turing's brother and other friends and colleagues, those who tried to help but couldn't - a man out of time needed more than anyone could offer really.

Robert Harper and Rick Yale impress as those who hurt and betray Turing, the architects of his appalling treatment at the hands of British Justice and his sad and lonely demise. Taking their leads from The Turing Machine's principle of interrogating a problem with a series of binary questions until a solution is reached and their style from Cabaret's grinning malevolent Emcee, the two circle Turing and eventually trap him, the man taken down so the machine could live on.

Angharad Lee's direction is snappy, the performances committed and the moral unimpeachable, so this play has much to commend it. However, I would have enjoyed it more some 24 years ago, just after I had read Andrew Hodges' seminal biography, as the subject matter feels just a bit worn out in 2016.

Photo Keith Morris


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From This Author Gary Naylor