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Tag Archive | "Alan Turing"

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: That Is All You Need to Know

Posted on 09 August 2013 by Jake Orr

That Is All You Need to Know

Star Rating:
(4/5 Stars)

In the year that Alan Turing is given a formal apology from the Government, emerging theatre company Idle Motion brings the story of cracking the Enigma code and the lives of those working from Bletchley Park into its mesmerising performance of That is All You Need to Know. The story, perhaps still unknown to some audiences, tells of Turing and his contemporaries who, under the strict secrecy OK-ed by the British Government, attempted to intercept and decode the thousands of messages and orders being sent by Germany during WW2. Turing and his team created The Bomb, a massive decoding machine that could simultaneously decode and reconfigure the ever-changing coding systems used by the German Government. Alongside this phenomenal story of secrecy and mathematics, Idle Motion tells the story of the volunteers who campaigned tirelessly to save Bletchley Park from being demolished.

Using its trademark visual theatre of projection, movement and images, Idle Motion creates a thrilling experience, telling the story of Bletchley Park with heart and theatrical skill – the perfect marriage of style and story. The highlight of the piece is not so much the performance delivery (don’t get me wrong, Idle Motion really is superb) but the story itself; putting the attention on the fantastic achievements of those within Bletchley Park, and the phenomenal numbers that weighed against them. There were 200 million million variations which the code to decipher the messages of Engima could have been. Staggering. This gives That Is All You Need to Know a real sense of importance to the history of war time secrecy.

Looking at the performance presentation it’s easy to see why the audience were rapt with their eyes wide during the showing I saw. Merging projections, recorded audio from those who were part of the decoding, physical characterisations and beautiful music, That is All You Need to Know is a visual treat. Handling the subject matter with tender and imaginative flare, Idle Motion sets the bar high for devising theatre companies. It’s not all stunning visuals, though, as there’s a humanity to the work giving life to the characters, in particular the volunteers who with their quirky mannerisms and urgency to keep Bletchley Park alive offer moments of comic respite.

The other joy to this piece (I will stop praising it shortly, I swear), comes from seeing such a diverse audience for such a young company. The show I attended had numerous elders amongst the audience, interspersed with younger audience goers. It’s not often you see such a cross-section of audience demographics, as as the gentleman next to me noted, this really is an important piece for so many people, it’s good to be done well. I couldn’t agree more.

That Is All You Need To Know is at Zoo Southside until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Guest blog: David Byrne on his new musical, The Universal Machine

Posted on 12 April 2013 by David Byrne

New Diorama 1

In this new blog series, David Byrne, Artistic Director of the New Diorama Theatre, will explore the process of writing and staging a musical, looking at the place of musical theatre in Britain today…

This April, here at New Diorama Theatre, we will stage our first musical. The Universal Machine will be a new musical about the life and death of Alan Turing. And I really didn’t want it to be a musical. I fought against it for quite some time but it was the only way to go and, as soon as I gave in, it felt right. The most recurring question or reaction I’ve had to the piece is why have we turned such a potentially tragic story into a piece of musical theatre?

There is a prevailing assumption that all musicals are staged with lines of kicking girls, jazz hands and camp choreography. Personally, I’ve never seen a musical like this. I’m not sure they really exist outside pastiches in The Simpsons. Most musicals, especially popular ones of the past 20 years, are centered around obscure subjects and issues that you wouldn’t initially dream of setting to music – just look at the Lloyd-Webber back catalogue: the life story of the wife of an Argentinean dictator, obscure parts of the Old Testament and, soon we’re told, the Profumo affair.

The truth is we’ve made Alan’s story into a musical for one main reason: the content fitted the form. I wanted to show the world of a man who can make the most incredible, genius intellectual jumps but had problems connecting to those around him. Showing the people in Alan’s life moving with erudite ease, able to express themselves and their emotions with effortless clarity seems to fit the idea of a completely choreographed piece. Here, through a musical language, characters can communicate freely and try to connect through music, which is always hardwired into us emotionally.

That is the basis on which we’re going forward.

New Diorama 2

The smaller reason was I’ve been dying to programme some musical theatre at New Diorama. One of the recurring themes I’ve noticed in my professional career has been the complaint that there aren’t enough new musicals. Barely six months goes by without somebody writing an article or starting a debate to ask why in the UK there are so few new pieces of musical theatre attempted while our cousins State-side, seem to churn them out to a more consistent high standard quite regularly.

I’ve always been a huge fan of musicals. Early in my career this was scoffed at by my superiors but, landing a venue of my own to run and programme, I was determined to make musical theatre part of the mosaic of work we present. Also, Jemima, our General Manager had championed new musical theatre while she worked at Arts Council England and fought for companies such as Perfect Pitch to get public funding for the first time. We felt like the right team to do it.

I started off at the big festivals (mainly Edinburgh) trying to find really strong new British musicals. I then moved to looking across the London Fringe, attending showcases and new productions. What I found was a surprising lack of variety and innovation, especially when compared to developments in other dramatic forms, with nowhere near the same number to choose from. I’ve been wondering why that might be the case.

My theory is that all the best writing programmes in the UK that playwrights gravitate towards encourage “straight” theatre – after all, few new musicals are staged at The Bush, the Royal Court, Hampstead etc. I think there’s also an historical issue: for some reason writing musicals is barely a respectable career in the UK. In America, the musical is a respected art-form but here it’s seen as an embarrassing cousin to ‘serious theatre’. At university I wrote my first musical and it was a great success – we won several prizes and a good time was had by all. After it all died down one of my lecturers took me to one side: “Stop with this musical theatre business”, he advised. “Why not try working on some European translations next, maybe move to Paris, live in a squat and date a whore. That’s the respectable way to do it.” He added, with a glint in his eye, “after all, it worked for me”.

Photos: The cast of The Universal Machine in rehearsals. By Richard Lakos for A Younger Theatre.

David Byrne

David Byrne

David Byrne is the Artistic and Executive Director of New Diorama Theatre (NDT), an 80 seat space in Central London. Photo: David in rehearsals. By Richard Lakos for A Younger Theatre.

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Spotlight On: Negative Capability

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Lauren Powell

At the tender age of 24, Freddy Syborn appears to be full of both philosophical intellect and curiosity. It’s fitting, then, that the name of his theatre company, Negative Capability, is derived from world-renowned psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion’s theory. Syborn explains Bion’s hypothesis: “We the listeners, have no way of telling whether what we’re being told is true or not, nor whether the intention of the storyteller is to help or hurt us or themselves. It’s essentially about being able to live in uncertainty, to improvise with an eye on understanding what’s not said.”

This uncertainty is the model for Crypted (one half of Negative Capability’s double bill), Syborn tells. Crypted explores the life of computer science prodigy, Sherlock Holmes counterpart to the German Enigma code, life saver, hero and OBE recipient Alan Turing. His death in 1954 has been the topic of debate: his cleaner found him dead with a half-eaten apple by his bedside, which is believed to have been coated in cyanide but never tested. His mother, protesting at the suicide verdict, believed consumption of cyanide would have been accidental, due to his careless way of working. Speculation over the true cause is still very much present. Is this something that Syborn explores?

“To a degree […] I have my own theory, and the play may leave you with a certain impression, but I wanted to focus on his life, not his death. Ambiguity is more interesting than certainty. Numbers have secret lives. A mathematician called Kurt Gödel proved beyond doubt that a number can be true but not provable. I took this as the model for the play. We know the result (Turing’s death) but we can never prove why or how Turing died or what his death ‘means’.”

This exploration of a man so influential couldn’t be more apt, as technologists across the world commemorate his 100th anniversary since birth. Syborn, however, was oblivious to this milestone: “I started writing about him for two reasons […] I felt that Alan Turing’s ideas could only have been dreamt up by a mind forced to exist on the margins of society. He lived secretly; he sought hidden gestures. And while he was unique and uniquely brilliant, what struck me was his universality. He was unhappy in love. He had to wear disguises. He was alone.” Turing, who was a homosexual and sexually active (therefore breaking the law at the time), was publicly humiliated and forced to undertake hormone treatments intended to make him asexual.

Crypted is, then, a dedication for Turin’s hero status, but also more poignantly for two of Syborn’s friends, who tragically took their own lives. Syborn asserts that he will “remember them as they were and not as they ended […] Crypted is for both of them”. Syborn continues with his second reason for writing about a man with such a torturous and celebrated past: “I love reading maths and physics – two subjects I flunked at school – because they expose me to systems of thought entirely different to my own. It is this point of vulnerability that I choose to write from,” He expands on this: “If I have a trade (which is debatable), it’s words. So I love things that don’t employ them. I enjoy clowning. Or sculpture. Or music, even,” affirming his inability to hold a tune.

“You learn so much more from otherness than you can from similarity” is perhaps a fine way of thinking for all human beings, particularly writers. “When I read quantum physics, say, the thrill is me absolutely knowing I won’t understand the subject matter. I can only respond to it imaginatively.” There is clearly success in this approach for Syborn, as 2008 saw him winning the coveted RSC The Other Prize, exclusive to Cambridge University.

Accomplishing The Other Prize did not come easily to Syborn, ironically after securing its £500 winnings. “The main theatre at Cambridge was obliged to stage the winning play. However, when I won it, the theatre declined to stage my play for reasons that its committee chose not to explain.” The play was called Father/Son and, interestingly, is not listed below ‘Recent Winners’ on Cambridge’s Marlowe Society website. Syborn continues, proudly proclaiming his ability to see through obstacles, “I staged it at another, smaller space. […] So the university certainly provided the prize and the space, but without self-belief I’d have been left with nothing.”

Syborn has achieved an impressive amount so far, having written comedy gold for numerous television shows. His long list of credits include: 8 out of 10 Cats, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Mock the Week, Have I got News for You and most recently Sky’s Little Cracker. He writes these with best friend Jack Whitehall, whom he regards as “kind and loyal enough to bring him along” having succeeded in gaining paid work. Though fortunate to have Whitehall’s connections in writing, Syborn clearly works hard, having written an impressive 16 plays to date (according to www.freddysyborn.com), which he also acts in and directs. He has worked on shows for the Edinburgh Fringe for “six years straight”, so it is not surprising that he remarks on “a change in the way it operates”.

Clearly impassioned regarding the festival that has been so instrumental to his work, he tells how this is the first Fringe where venues prohibit flyering around them. Listen up Edinburgh Fringe committee: “It’s becoming very corporate and segregated. If Edinburgh becomes even more institutionalised, the people who’ll suffer first are the artists, and the people who’ll suffer second are the audiences, when the whole thing becomes too expensive and too fucking annoying to bother with. Ultimately, the Fringe exists for artists to experiment. It does not exist to supplement the coffers of Magners. We’re in danger of forgetting that.”

For now however, while Negative Capability still have the willpower to fight through this change and expense, their six strong cast will be performing at C nova venue from 14 to 26 August. Excess, a comedy, forms the other half of its double bill and is a completely different kettle of fish to Crypted, as Syborn wears a dress or a gimp mask. Excess addresses the body, whereas Crypted addresses the mind, Syborn informs, making it a difficult decision if funds only permitted one: “I like Crypted because it satisfies an intellectual curiosity; I like Excess because it works violently against the characters and their audience.”

Excess is about boy, Joe, who tells his sister he is getting a sex change, and her strong reaction to this. Asked, curiously, what his inspiration was behind a play concerning drag queens and sexual identity, Syborn discloses “a great night out” he had in Manchester with his writing partner. “We went clubbing with a drag queen and his boyfriend, then went back to their flat. We asked the drag queen about why he performs, and the gap between his female persona and male reality. While he talked, the drag queen took off his wig and changed from a very culturally-specific type (outrageous, sexually confident, reckless) to a quiet bloke in his late thirties. Excess, I suppose, is about that difference between what we are and what we present of that self to the world,” Syborn demonstrates: “This interview is a performance. What I wear is a performance. Everything I am is conditioned by what came before me and my reaction to it. The definition of a self against its history – that’s what interests me.”

He talks with great aplomb with regards to what he enjoys writing about and certainly seems to have a niche within this dog eat dog world, though he proclaims, with apt calmness and comfortableness, “I am at the earliest possible stage of my career, and haven’t been at all successful to date” (depending on how you define successful). “I’ve never been paid to write a play, or to stage one, so I’m an amateur. And the word ‘amateur’ has some positive connotations. For me, it implies that you’re working for love, not money.”

“All I can say is that I believe in my shows, I believe in my actors, and I believe that some people may enjoy watching us improve together.” And there it is: believe and you will succeed. Freddy Syborn knows so.

Excess and Crypted play at C Venues – C nova – until 27 August. For more information or to book tickets, visit www.edfringe.com or www.Cthefestival.com.

Image credit: Negative Capability

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