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To Kill a Machine - the New Welsh Review Blog

BLOG Alice Vernon

NWR Issue 107

To Kill a Machine

On Wednesday 6 May, I went to the opening night of To Kill a Machine at Arad Goch’s town venue in Aberystwyth. Written by Catrin Fflur Huws and directed by Angharad Lee, this Kickstarter- and Arts Council of Wales-funded play was an intense exploration into the life of Alan Turing. The set was stark and the atmosphere inside the theatre was intimate – it made for an incredibly powerful performance by new Welsh company Scriptography. I highly recommend going to see it.

The play flitted between two interwoven strands. One presented Alan’s life, the other, a sinister, interrogative, purgatory game-show fashioned around Turing’s idea of the imitation game. This game argued that a judge would not be able to tell the difference between a human and a computer’s answers. It was delicately controlled and posed the question of how Turing’s fascination with the notion of whether machines can think reflected something about the man himself.

What really stood out was the set, designed by Cordelia Ashwell. I was in awe of the intriguing way in which props were handled. The stage was circular, a possible nod to the rotors of Turing’s Bombe machine, an electromechanical machine designed to help break the German Enigma code. In the middle of this was a metal wire tree with props and symbols of Alan’s life hanging ready to be plucked when the story demanded it. This, of course, included an apple, both a reference to temptation and to the one found half-eaten next to Turing when his body was discovered in 1954. It was a fantastic idea to build up his life-story within the tree, and to strip it gradually as his homosexuality was revealed and the trials and horrific chemical castration began (still offered by law in 1952 as an alternative to prison following his prosecution for ‘homosexual acts’). This central props-set concept was executed to great effect and was one of the many things that made this play so enjoyable to watch.

To Kill a Machine involved just four actors. Alan Turing was played by Gwydion Rhys, and the other three, Francois Pandolfo, Rick Yale, and Robert Harper circled around him in various roles. Rhys brought out the delicate, nervous, child-like personality and imagination in Turing, immediately pulling at the audience’s sympathy and attachment before trampling on hearts at the slow collapse of the play’s ending. The wholly male cast presented no issue. Catrin Fflur Huws brought the absent Joan Clarke, Turing’s fellow code-breaker, into the script as a brilliant and fiercely intelligent woman. In the play, on many occasions, Clarke spoke through Turing and the imitation game to declare that there is no mental difference between men and women. The castration was done with sensitivity, and the final moments of the play were profoundly moving. Huws has created a compelling, raw retelling of Turing’s life, punctuated with quick, witty dialogue and strong pacing. She has delicately matched Turing’s relentless intellectualism with his emotional turmoil and anguish at not being able to love freely. Throughout the play, Turing emphasises the problem of what makes us human and whether we can distinguish ourselves from ever-advancing computers. He wonders whether it is right for us to throw away our negative emotions and our fears and become machine-like in times of difficulty. To Kill a Machine was rather philosophical in parts, and left me with plenty to mull over on my way home. It was fairly short at seventy-five minutes, giving the effect that Turing’s code-breaking achievement happened rather quickly. Nevertheless, the play was successful in focusing on his personal life and the injustices he received in spite of his crucial involvement in winning the war. It really was a triumph and a thrill to watch. Oh, but be prepared for a brief sexually explicit scene with some nudity – I forgot my glasses so that bit was all just a peachy blur to me.

To Kill a Machine is touring around Welsh theatres until 22 May, with multiple appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and more tour dates to be announced at To Kill a Machine.

Alice Vernon is completing a MA in Creative Writing at Aberystywth University this summer

To Kill a Machine remaining dates:

12 May – 7.30 pm, Torch Theatre, Milford Haven 01646 695267
13 May – 7.30 pm, Blackwood Miners Institute, 01495 227206
15 May – 7.30 pm, Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea 01792 602060
17 May – 7.30 pm, Arcola Theatre, London 020 7503 1646
21 May – 7.30 pm, The Miners, Ammanford, 0845 226 3510
22 May – 7.30 pm, Theatr Hafren, Newtown 01686 614555

Photo, Keith Morris 2015 Arts Web Wales


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