It is a brave concept to create a musical devoted to Alan Turing. A fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, he was declared a genius when still at primary school.
He was the brilliant mathematician whose machine developed at Bletchley Park cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code, shortening the war by at least two years – saving millions of lives on both sides.
Later, he created the first automatic computer with an electronic stored program. He foresaw artificial intelligence and said that in 50 years’ time (so by the turn of the 20th century into the 21st) we would hardly be able to discern who is man and machine.
But his story is tragic in the extreme. He was a gay man when being an active homosexual was an imprisonable offence.
He said: “I am an odd number in an even world.” After reporting a burglary at his home to the police, an investigation led to his being found guilty of “gross indecency”. The court may well not have known who they were prosecuting. His work was subject to the Official Secrets Act.
Though George VI awarded Alan Turing an OBE in 1945 for his contribution to victory, it was not generally known until the 1970s.
Turing died, after taking a bite out of an apple injected with cyanide. It was just before his 41st birthday on June 7, 1953.
He had allowed himself to be subjected to chemical castration rather than go to prison. He said the process would make him a different man – but he didn’t know who that man would be. He did know that it made his life unbearable.
This show, created by composers Joel Goodman and Jan Osborne of Early Mornings Productions, for the Edinburgh Fringe, uses Turing’s writing to tell the story.
All of Turing’s dialogue is from his letters. The concept is that the narrator, a young woman, Andrea, has lost her own gay brother to suicide and in her grief has decided to write Turing’s biography. Andrea, who duets with Turing, was played on the opening night at the Town and Gown in Cambridge by Zara Cooke.
Joe Bishop was utterly convincing as Turing, serious and prescient. Bishop’s look and demeanour personifies a man of the 1930s and 1940s so well, it is hard to imagine him off stage in 2023 wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. His interpretation of the part is intensely moving.
There are still many people unaware of Alan Turing and his contribution to our lives. In many cases, he may be the reason we are here at all. We wouldn’t be if the Second World War had killed our parents or grandparents.
This show, which is still a work in progress, is set to address that. The sombre music might not be to everyone’s taste, sometimes it distracts from the story, but the story is unforgettable. As Andrea says: “I wonder what he would have given to humanity had he lived longer.”
Alan Turing a Musical Biography is at The Town and Gown Cambridge until Saturday, April 29 then touring visiting Litchfield, Birmingham, Yorkshire, and Manchester before returning to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Can you help us?
While you’re here, we are asking, for the first time, for readers to support us financially by taking out a modest subscription.
£2, or £3 or even £5 will help us achieve our goals. It will mean the second year of CambsNews will be livelier, healthier, and much better placed to cover the important issues affecting our everyday lives.
Your subscription simply means we can provide and expand our news FREE to all readers (Read More)Will you help us? Simply click the link below to make a donation.