City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

To Kill a Machine, Zoo Pleasance, Review

By Kenneth Scott - Posted on 25 August 2015

To Kill a Machine - photo credit Keith Morris.
Show details
Scriptography Productions
Running time: 
Angharad Lee (director), Catrin Fflur Huws (writer), Sandra Bendelow (producer), Cordelia Ashwell (set designer), Maisie Baynham (lighting designer), Nick Jones (sound designer).
Gwydion Rhys (Alan Turing), Robert Harper (The Interrogator), Rick Yale (The Betray), Francois Pandolfo (The Friend).

It has been said that Alan Turing died while conducting a dangerous experiment - it was called, life.

The play opens with an apology. Fifty-five years after his death the British Government apologises for the utterly unfair treatment that saw him tried for engaging in homosexual conduct and chemically castrated. “We’re sorry, you deserved so much better” rings rather hollowly and inadequately for a man who changed the course of the Second World War.

We meet the young Turing amidst discussions on his schooling. There are concerns that he might not be able to conform to the strictures of public school life. He wants to fit in and difficult times are softened his growing fondness of Christopher Morcom who takes both science and Alan seriously. He questions the idea of whether a machine, which must follow rules, can think and outlines the imitation game, where an interrogator must guess whether the respondent is male or female.

The play uses the device of incorporating a mock game show, “The Imitation Game”. This initially seems jarring against the period feel but soon proves its worth in moving the action swiftly and providing a sinister commentary.

As the action moves on we follow him from University to his work at the Bletchley Park code-breaking establishment where his unprecedented work with the German enigma codes will be done. Throughout issues of how other people think, machine intelligence and freewill and determinism surface.

As the Cold War and McCarthyism looms, Turing’s “tendencies” are seen as a security risk and as a weakness to be exploited. Reporting a petty burglary will lead to him being arrested and in conflict with the state machine. Seemingly trapped, the game show becomes a trial. The hypocritical courts know the truth but don’t want to hear it; for Turing that’s difficult to contemplate. The secret about whether a machine can think seems to rest with it learning to lie. And if the rules seem to change, that might present an unsolvable problem.

The production portrays a man who dealt with astonishing complexities but clung to the simple when it came to his life. A genius who had a lack of reverence for everything but the truth and a non-conformist who ultimately obeyed the rules.

While extensive biographies of Turing exist, he remains a bit of an enigma and some of the facts are still open to interpretation. Anyone unfamiliar with the story might not entirely grasp the significance of the “Snow White” apple.

This once secret story has of course been told before, notably in Hugh Whitemore's 1986 play “Breaking the Code” starring Sir Derek Jacobi and more recently in the movie “The Imitation Game”. Familiarity doesn’t however weaken the impact of this production and that’s down to the quality that pervades every aspect of it.

There is no one winning factor here, the truth is that it’s a combination of every aspect of the production that has been crafted and polished with a passion and care that is rare to see.

Show Times: 7 to 31 (not 11, 18, 25) August 2015 at 8.55pm.

Ticket Prices: £9 (£8).

Suitability: 14+