The Apollo’s latest play reveals the world of the 1940s and 50s through the life of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who died in poverty and disgrace for the then-crime of being gay. The flavour of the times is effectively set by projected photographs, music and newspaper and magazine articles before the action opens.
We are then thrust into a police interview with Turing as the victim rather than perpetrator, as he explains his home has been burgled. Reporting this crime is to have serious repercussions for Turing, as the rest of the play explores, moving back and forth in a series of flashbacks which are sometimes momentarily confusing, although the minimalist set lends itself to seamless transitions between scenes and the action flows perfectly.
Turing is a difficult main character to portray on stage as most drama rests on human interactions and relationships, while at first sight Turing’s sole passion in life appears to have been mathematics, and he struggled to express any emotion towards those around him.
However, this was not always so, as the small but vital role of Christopher Morcom, Turing’s first and perhaps only love, demonstrates. Scott Walsh, a newcomer to the Apollo stage, brings real emotion to the relationship and prepares us for the effect Morcom’s early death was to have on Turing.
Kathryn Ward convincingly depicts Turing’s mother’s complete inability to understand the son she genuinely loves, blinded by the social beliefs she has been brought up with. Carol Simpson’s Pat, a female colleague who falls in love with Turing, further illustrates his inability to accept love.
The relationships that work best for Turing are predicated on work – as illustrated by Ian Moth’s grumpily sympathetic Knox and the coldly efficient John Smith, played by Peter Gale; or on loveless sexual transactions such as the liaison that forms the catalyst for Turing’s downfall, with Ron Miller, whom Mark Duffus skilfully portrays as almost everything Turing isn’t.
The central relationship of the play is also based on logic rather than emotion, and Garry Smith dominates the stage and Turing as Mick Ross, the policeman who receives a crime report which reveals another crime, turning the victim into the persecuted.
The almost cameo but perfectly nuanced performance from Jason Harris as the Greek Nikos illustrates beautifully that even towards the end, Turing can still only connect with someone who can’t even understand him, just as his mathematical brilliance has set him apart from others.
For this is a mainspring of the play: Turing’s inability to really connect with people, to make people understand him is his tragedy, a tragedy that comes across perfectly in this superbly acted play. Every actor on stage convinces, yet the play still belongs to its central character, perfectly portrayed by the talented Joel Leverton who despite the difficulties referred to above succeeds in drawing in our empathy for Turing.
Quite apart from the sheer amount of script he has to retain, Joel rises to the challenges of the character incredibly, his performance worthy of any professional stage. Whether cringing at the probing questions of the police, embarrassed at having to explain to Pat why he can never marry her or displaying the absolute ebullience of the free flow of mathematical reasonings that only he can follow, Joel portrays every facet of Turing’s character to perfection.
If you have not yet secured a ticket to see Breaking the Code I recommend you do so – it continues from Tuesday 7th to Saturday 12th February at the Apollo; tickets available at https://www.apollo-theatre.org.uk/breaking-the-code/ or in 01983 210010.
Review by Maureen O’Sullivan
Photos by Paul Jennings