To Kill a Machine

Performed by a superb cast, this is a painful and tragic exploration of Alan Turing’s life and the many attempts to break him as a person. The piece explores less of Turing's codebreaking successes of World War Two, focusing instead on his much more pioneering work in computer science, like weather machines that can think. To Kill a Machine studies the thin line between man and machine, and asks – if something thinks differently to you, is it still thinking?

A sinister and powerful demonstration of what goes wrong when instead of respecting our differences, we fear them.

Turing’s life is full of material to make into a tragedy – there is love and loss, war, secrets and betrayal. We see snippets of Turing’s life starting from his time at school with Christopher, where his teachers think he lacks discipline and Turing corrects their mathematical mistakes; through university and his recruitment to join the code-breaking effort at Bletchley; to his life after the War and his trial and punishment for being homosexual.

Turing’s life story is interspersed with gameshow-esque moments, showing society's continued attempts to ‘eliminate’ Turing by exposing his secrets, and investigating what Turing was working on – can machines pretend to be human? These were consistently clever scenes that began as interesting and informative and quickly became merciless and horrifying. I have a huge amount of respect for Robert Harper and Rick Yale’s ability to keep smiling widely, ever the gracious and energetic hosts, as the faces of the audience became more shocked and sickened.

The show uses naturalistic snapshots of moments from Turing’s life woven together with much more symbolic and physicalized scenes that represent a larger concept. The moment when Turing is defending himself in court whilst being strapped aggressively into hormone-treatment drips is terrifyingly gripping.

Gwydion Rhys' performance of Turing as a gentle, harmless individual with too much going on in his head – not someone detached from this world, but permanently thoughtful – is stunning and absolutely unshakeable. Rhys’ Turing had a strong air of authenticity, making him utterly convincing. Francois Pandolfo handled his performances as Turing’s multiple friends with a confidence and versatility that was a joy to watch.

Turing suffered repeated cruelties by the government and history. This production was a moving reminder to treat people, even if they are different from you, with decency and compassion. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. It is a sinister and powerful demonstration of what goes wrong when instead of respecting our differences, we fear them.

Reviews by M Johnson

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The Blurb

To Kill a Machine: an empowering and heartbreaking play telling the real story of war-time code breaker Alan Turing. A man guilty only of knowledge, homosexuality and refusing to live a lie, who was turned into a hero, vilified for his sexuality and suicide and resurrected to hero after his death. The play examines his pioneering work considering whether a machine could think. The play asks the question what then is the difference between a human and a machine? And if a human is prevented from thinking, does he then become a machine?

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