BREAKING THE CODE
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 6th October, 2018
Before Alan Turing became a household name some fifty years after his early death, Hugh Whitemore wrote this play which went a long way to establishing the computing pioneer as one of the most important figures of the Second World War. Turing’s work in cracking the code of the Germans’ Enigma machine played a major part in our defeat of the Nazis – we have a lot to thank him for.
The timeline of the play is not in chronological order. It is up to the audience to decode the order of events to build up a picture of Turing’s life story. Director Liz Plumpton keeps the staging simple, allowing clues from the script to inform us which decade we’re in. She is blessed with a superlative cast, who keep us riveted throughout. The intimacy of the in-the-round setting puts us right in the action as we eavesdrop on Turing and the people in encounters at work and at play.
Making his debut at the Crescent, Jack Hobbis is stunningly good in the lead role. Hardly ever offstage, he is utterly convincing, inhabiting the character with nuance, animation and total conviction. This Turing is eminently likeable, for all his eccentricities, quirks and directness. I suggest the Crescent treat Hobbis the way Turing treated his tea mug: chain him to a radiator so he can never leave the building! I have seen lesser performances win all sorts of awards.
The mighty Brendan Stanley is thoroughly credible as no-nonsense detective Mick Ross, and Phil Rea is also on excellent form as Turing’s Bletchley Park boss, Dilwyn Knox, a humorous cove, decidedly old-school. Angela Daniels, as Turing’s mother, adds depth to her characterisation as the action unfolds, while Sanjeev Mistry makes a strong impression as Turing’s fateful bit of rough, Ron Miller. Amy Thompson combines sweetness with efficiency as female boffin Pat Green, and Tony Daniels has a pleasing cameo as top-secret brass, John Smith. Young actor Louis Clare appeals as Turing’s schooldays chum, Chris Morcom and later dazzles as Greek trick, Nikos, spouting the language like a native – an impressive feat on its own but Clare imbues Nikos with a remarkable presence as he listens to Turing’s babbling.
Jennet Marshall’s costumes do most of the period work for the production, evoking the era superbly, while Kristan Webb’s lighting design stylishly takes us from place to place and time to time. The final moment, of Turing with his poisoned apple, will stay with me a long time.
A superlative production that is both humorous and gripping; another jewel in the Crescent’s sparkling crown. We learn a good deal about the tragic genius, who has become a hero-martyr type, a figurehead for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I wonder if the Alan Turing Law, passed as recently as 2017, pardoning all those cautioned or convicted of homosexual acts, would bear his name if he hadn’t saved us all from fascism, or whether the long-overdue law would have been passed at all.
Genius! The brilliant Jack Hobbis (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Alan Turing, Amy Thompson, Angela Daniels, Birimingham, Bletchley Park, Breaking The Code, Brendan Stanley, Crescent Theatre, Enigma machine, Hugh Whitemore, Jack Hobbis, Jennet Marshall, Kristan Webb, Liz Plumpton, Louis Clare, Phil Rea, review, Sanjeev Mistry, Tony Daniels | posted in Review, Theatre Review
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 9th December, 2016
Every year I see at least one show based on the quintessential Christmas story, some of them better than others. I am happy to report this new adaptation by Alan K Marshall is definitely one of the better ones. Making judicious use of Dickens’s words, the script captures the spirit of the book, which, at heart, is a ghost story as much as it is social commentary. The story of the redemption of one man still has the power to move, when handled properly, and, sad to relate, the indictment of society and its treatment of the poor and needy is all too relevant almost 200 years later.
Andrew Lowrie delivers Scrooge’s grumpiness, his sour humour and his fear, as the miser goes on his spiritual journey. His delirious joy in the final scenes is marvellous – Scrooge has rocketed to the other end of the spectrum. Other standout performances include Nicholas Brady, a handsome and convivial Fred, Scrooge’s nephew; Chris Collett as Jacob Marley – in one of the show’s scariest moments, he makes a dramatic entrance; and Tony Daniels’s Bob Cratchit grieving over Tiny Tim is heartrending. Standout scenes include the opportunists selling off Scrooge’s effects, played to perfection by Charwoman (Catherine Kelly – who also gives a lively performance as Fred’s Mrs), Laundress (Judy O’Dowd) and Old Joe (Ivor Williams); and the entrances of the Ghost of Christmas Present (Bob Martin) and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come are impressive – Production values are high; the team have gone all-out to make the most of their resources to create some ‘wow’ moments.
Kenny Holmes’s lighting design is especially effective, ranging from dim pools of Victorian candlelight to the more dazzling special effects that give the supernatural events such impact. Dan O’Neill’s set serves as exterior and interior for all the scenes, complemented by fly-ins and roll-ins. The action is continuous and fluid. Alan K Marshall, directing his own script, wisely uses action for storytelling as much as Dickens’s words – wordless moments are equally as revealing of character as lines of dialogue. He handles crowd scenes well and delivers a couple of surprises along the way. Ghostly animation, projected across the walls, adds to the atmosphere.
Jennet Marshall and Stewart Snape’s costumes are spot on, depicting the period as well as a kind of Christmas-card Victoriana, as characters’ colourful outfits contrast with Scrooge’s dour appearance and the general darkness of the age.
Music in the form of classical arrangements of carols works better in some scenes than others. At times, I find it too grandiose for the on-stage action: the dance at the Fezziwigs’, for example, could do with being lighter and sparer, more folksy. A moment when a voice offstage sings The First Noel unaccompanied while the grieving Cratchits traipse across the scene is all the more powerful, demonstrating that sometimes less is more.
Overall this is a stately production with some strong ideas that make it a fresh but faithful version of a story that still speaks to us today. A warning against hardening our hearts against our fellow man and also of the dangers of ignorance could not be more timely in this small-minded, inward-looking, ‘post-truth’ age.
Bah, humbug! Bob Cratchit (Tony Daniels) and Scrooge (Andrew Lowrie) Photo: Graeme Braidwood
Leave a comment | tags: A Christmas Carol, Alan K Marshall, Andrew Lowrie, Bob Martin, Catherine Kelly, Charles Dickens, Chris Collett, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Dan O'Neill, Ivor Williams, Jennet Marshall, Judy O'Dowd, Kenny Holmes, Nicholas Brady, review, Stewart Snape, Tony Daniels | posted in Theatre Review