Alan Turing - A Musical Biography

"....some flashes of creative flair"

The remarkable life of Alan Turing, is great material for a dramatisation. In 2014 Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed him in the acclaimed biographical film, the Imitation Game. Hailed as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, it is widely accepted that Turing’s role in cracking the Enigma code shortened World War II by several years. In 1952, arrested for homosexuality (illegal in Britain at the time), he chose chemical castration to avoid prison and took his own life by cyanide poisoning two years later. Until the full extent of his work was known in the 1990s, he was not as celebrated as he is now.

Joan Greening (writer) and Joel Goodman’s (composer, producer) musical is the story of Turing’s life from childhood to his death. A two hander, Joe Bishop plays Turing and Zara Cooke, all other roles (Mother, policeman and college chum/ fiancé/ fellow code cracker Joan).

The acting is accomplished. Bishop’s quietly spoken Turing is played with some pathos and Cooke’s melodic voice saves some unmemorable musical interludes. But, it feels at times as if the tunes are shoehorned in because it’s time for a song and the music doesn’t always enhance the story.

There is a beautiful scene when Alan proposes to Joan accompanied by an upbeat song, “Marry Me” and the pair dancing in hold. We know the union is doomed, but in that moment joy exudes from the actors.

The set is well done, with era appropriate furniture and props for all scenes on stage the entire time. The black board easel conjures up the feeling of being in a 1920s classroom and the desk, typewriter and phone transports us to Bletchley in the 1940s. Use of the floor as a blackboard to scribe equations in chalk is a nice touch. A scene when Bishop runs on the spot with his body at a forty five degree angle is effective in creating the illusion that he is moving forward.

Despite the interesting subject matter, the highs and lows of an extraordinary life don’t play out on different dramatic levels. The dialogue and songs do not whip up a euphoric moment when the code crackers triumph and nor did Mother’s reading the news of her son’s death overwhelm me with emotion. We are hurried through the facts with little time to delve deep enough into Alan’s character and invest in his genius and inner turmoil.

I hope the creative team will continue to build on the momentum this piece gathered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There are some flashes of creative flair and the story of Alan Turing should be told in as many forms as possible. At the moment, it needs some work and a few showstopping songs.

This show was reviewed on the 11th January 2024.  The show runs at the Riverside Studios London until the 27th January 2024.  Tickets available here: Alan Turing - A Musical Biography | Riverside Studios

Review written by Victoria Willetts

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Photo Credit: Gabriel Bush & Clive Holland

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