A hundred years after his birth, Alan Turing and his work are finally getting the attention they deserve, with calls to put his image on the next batch of £10 notes, a petition to grant him an official governmental pardon for his 1952 conviction of ‘gross indecency’, international events to mark the Turing Centenary and now, with a sensitive and questioning piece of dramatic writing unravelling key threads of his astonishing life. It reveals Turing’s character in a neatly fragmented manner, flickering backwards and forwards to tease out connections, motivations and thought processes.
We see the school age Turing (Harriet Green) feeling increasingly isolated from his peers and ‘normal’ boyish behaviour, whilst developing a great love for mathematics and Chris Morcom (Ollie Smith), the one friend he finds at school, a gentle and perceptive boy who is also suffering from Tuberculosis. As teenage Turing beings to identify his homosexuality, he even wishes at one point for a physical illness like his friend that may be treatable, rather than the moral disease which society leads him to believe he is suffering from. The slow development of Alan and Chris’ deep connection is very movingly portrayed. The acting is of the highest quality throughout Crypted; alongside Green and Smith, Lauren Cooney gives a heartbreaking performance as Turing’s mother, who consistently stands by her son and Amani Zardoe depicts Turing’s short-lived fiancé Joan Clarke entertainingly and passionately. Clarke was a co-worker at Bletchley Park, where Turing was instrumental in cracking German codes during WWII and where he developed some of the foundations of computer science. During the Bletchley Park scenes, Green captures perfectly Turing’s increasing eccentricity and weariness.
The script jumps forward another ten years or so to depict the story of Turing’s demise, through a mix of letters and police statements. In 1952, during police investigations into Turing’s house having been burgled, he confessed to having had a homosexual relationship and was subsequently arrested – private homosexual acts were only decriminalised in 1967. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Turing opted for chemical castration therapy (oestrogen injections) instead of imprisonment. The play shows how this cruel treatment deeply affected him both mentally and physically and how it may have led to his suicide just two years later – though whether Turing’s death was planned or accidental is still disputed.
Syborn adeptly weaves together Crypted’s central philosophical themes – such as progress, truth, law and authority – and continuously deconstructs them through the character of Turing, who applies these ideas to both scientific and social problems. The writer has chosen to direct his own script and while I can’t fault his acting direction, I feel like there were some odd choices, like using a ragdoll to portray the very young Turing, and that the play would have benefited from another perspective in considerations of the mise-en-scène. I also couldn’t quite reconcile myself to the casting of a woman in the role of Turing; I understand that this is, in part, an attempt to show how gender is constructed, and to de-normalise heterosexuality, yet I think this is already implicit in the depiction of Turing’s two romantic relationships and that this decision lessened, rather than increased, our understanding and empathy. Nonetheless, this is a polished and professional production that engrossingly elucidates its extraordinary subject matter.
**** – 4 Stars
Crypted is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 26 August as C venues. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.