Saturday, July 25, 2009


Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at the Old Court


This formidable directing team had got career-best performances from their actors, in a pitch-perfect production in which every pause, every gesture, every turn of the head was significant.

Jim Crozier led the team with a towering performance as Turing, a man for whom the porridge was always cold, and for whom numbers were the only reliable friends …

Jim Hutchon was at the first night:

Mike & Sara Nower’s epic production of Breaking the Code outlines the hapless life and loves of Alan Turing, the wartime code-breaker and the father of British computing. On a commendably bare stage of a few black boxes, with a ‘groups-of-five’ backdrop, they succeeding in creating convincing depictions of time and space despite a fractured timeline after, before and during the war.

Jim Crozier was awesome as the stammering, mathematical genius, homosexual Turing trying to function in a world which tragically didn’t understand him or his work. Steve Holding was perfectly underplayed as the imperturbable policeman plodding his way to the truth of Turing’s illegal sexuality. Ivor Jevons used a well-developed sense of comic timing as the establishment ‘foil’ to Turing , and Catherine Kenton employed a delicious sense of a 40’s paramour to add a welcome, if ill-starred, love interest. Liam Collins as a casual pick-up, was the barb that eventually caught Turing, and Beth Walters played the baffled mother with great feeling.

Some of Jim Crozier’s long but key speeches were gripping for aficionados of code-breaking, but perhaps a trifle tedious – especially with the stammer - for the others. For me, the key scene was a truly explosive exchange between Turing and David Chilvers as a Greek pick-up where Turing poured out his secrets to the uncomprehending Greek, countered by a torrent of Greek, to the equally uncomprehending Turing.

1 comment:

Mary Redman said...

Despite what the publicity and the script stated, it's not breaking the cryptographic code that matters. The clue is in the punning title of Hugh Whitemore's wordy but fascinating play, combined with the socio-sexual history of the mid 20th Century.
The code that is being broken is not just of the Enigma kind but the unwritten code of gay omerta of the Fifties and earlier. Not openly saying that you were homosexual and thus not tempting fate in the shape of the law. Hence police persecution of all classes but also notoriety of the upper class names involved in some of the more famous cases of the Fifties.
Not having seen Jim Crozier on stage for a long time I was truly impressed by his creation of Turing. Gone was the posturing Jim of older productions. He seems to have learned the lesson that less is more and applied it in spades to this character with a marvellous demonstration of theatrical stillness which makes an actor so much more watchable. His pedantic Turing was one of those men who are born old. He caught the diffidence, shyness, unworldliness, repression, intense fascination with one subject and intellectual giftedness of this character. All bordering on what would nowadays probably be recognised as being a condition on the autistic spectrum such as Asperger's syndrome.
I thought that Beth Walters as Turing's mother caught the dignity, staidness, preoccupation with appearances and status, plus the extreme politeness of certain female members of previous generations. It would matter a lot to her if the spotlight were shone on her and her family.
Steve Holding's deadpan policeman was of the school that believes that if you keep silent people are more likely to spill the beans.
As the lovely Pat Catherine Kenton impressed with her intellectual knowledge and with her portrait of a bright young woman of the 1930s and 40s.
David Chilvers was good as the public school friend of Turing who shared his interest in astronomy and as Nikos the eager-to-please Greek boy.
As a Whitehall mandarin Ivor Jevons's Knox was amusing and honest about his shortcomings on the intellectual front.
Liam Collins had an air of mystery about him as the casual pickup Ron Miller, uneasy in Turing's house and the catalyst sparking off the unravelling of Turing's private life. Dean Hempstead made a brief appearances as the enigmatic government "spook".
Jane Kyte-Hunt caught the period feel with costumes that flattered the women and underlined the men's conformity with the prevailing fashion of the time such as it was.
Directors Mike and Sarah Nower overcame the drawbacks of staging such an episodic play by having the cast move furniture to save time, accompanied by Morse code and telex machine sound effects to add urgency and pace. Their set was economical in suggesting a Whitehall office, a police station or a pub with a drab brown door, multipurpose black blocks as furniture against two white panels covered in code.
They directed with great attention to detail at a totally unhurried pace. All the cast responded so well to their direction and were united in recreating a lost era. Apart from some of Whitemore's lengthier speeches for Turing you could hear the audience concentrating and the proverbial pin could have dropped and we wouldn't have noticed.
Another very welcome, grown up production for CTW.

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