Breaking the Code – 5 stars

People’s Theatre, Newcastle.

Hugh Whitemore’s play about the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing – key player in the breaking of the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II and a pioneer of computer science – was first presented at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1986, before transferring to Broadway the following year.

It has been a staple of theatre companies up and down the country ever since then, and The People’s production this week is a perfect example of why. Classy, dignified, sympathetic without being too maudlin, this is one of the best productions of this play I’ve seen.

The cast is superb. The actors portray wonderfully drawn three-dimensional characters, with all their quirks and foibles, and it is a testament to their skill and talent that you cannot fail to feel for every one of them in this tragic story. There is not a weak link on the stage, and it makes for an incredibly moving – as well as entertaining – night at the theatre. It was no surprise to me that some audience members got to their feet to give a standing ovation at the curtain call.

Mention must go to Richard Jack as Turing. His is a virtuoso performance; understated yet powerful, at times very funny, at others utterly heart-breaking. Jack is so in command of the role and of his journey throughout the play that he becomes, and remains, utterly compelling to watch.

The direction – which is credited in the programme as being by Chris Carr, Karen Elliott, Brian Green, and the Company – is perfect, hitting just the right note. There is an underlying feeling throughout of oppression and foreboding, very evocative of the period and the world in which Turing found himself. The use of the whole company of actors throughout the production to achieve this feeling works wonderfully.

The scenes flow smoothly from one to the next, assisted by brilliant and effective set and sound designs from Leah Page and Lewis Cuthbert respectively, as the story reaches its climax and we arrive at the inevitable tragic conclusion.

This is a brilliant, elegant production, and one not to be missed.

(originally posted 14 February 2018)

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