Breaking the Code Brings the Story of Math Genius and WWII Hero to Life
Alan Turing was a man ahead of his time.
He is venerated as the father of modern computer science and was one of the first to conceive of Artificial Intelligence (AI)—decades before it became a reality. However, he is best known as Great Britain’s genius mathematician and engineer who played a leading role in winning World War II.
Turing created a machine that broke the Nazi Enigma code, allowing Allied forces to read their secret messages and prevent attacks. Many historians believe this shortened the war by two years, saving an estimated 12 million lives.
But because Turing’s contributions were top-secret for years after the war, the public didn’t know how much was owed him when he was prosecuted for breaking another “code”—the taboo against homosexuality.
That’s the story told in the play Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore, running Jan. 24 - Feb. 4 at Wichita Community Theatre. The biographical drama is directed by Leroy Clark.
The 2014 film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, brought increased interest in Turing’s life and work. Breaking the Code is derived from the same source material as the film—Andrew Hodges’ book Alan Turing: The Enigma. But while the film focuses on Turing’s work breaking the Enigma code, the play centers more on his personal life.
“I think it’s fascinating to learn about Alan Turing because he’s such an important person,” said Clark. “Not only is he a hero of World War II and the father, if you will, of the computer, but his character is so interesting. He’s such a passionate individual wanting to know about the mind and whether machines can think. [The play] shows us that blazing scientific passion and genius.”
Taking on the monumental role of Turing is local actor Mark Schuster. Not only is the sheer volume of lines a challenge for any performer, but the role also requires the actor to take on some of Turing’s real-life traits, such as speaking with a stammer. Schuster turned to actor Derek Jacobi—who originated the role of Turing—and the film The King’s Speech for inspiration.
“Putting together a character like this has been an interesting challenge,” said Schuster. “He’s so nuanced...he’s a hero but he’s very flawed. He’s arrogant, he thinks he’s always right—but he’s brilliant, and also just a likable guy in many ways. And his tragedy is that he tries to do what he believes is right, and it ends up being used against him.”
Will audience members be able to relate to Turing, even if they aren’t mathematical geniuses?
“Absolutely,” said Schuster. “He’s dealing with problems all human beings have to deal with.”
One of Turing’s main and most human struggles, explained Clark, has to do with the contrast between his intellectual and emotional sides. “He’s primarily intellectual and not really able to make emotional connections with other people. He doesn’t care what people think of him—he simply wants to do his work. Intellectual vs. emotional intelligence is one of the main themes of the play. We meet a couple of characters, like his school friend Christopher, who guide him to become more aware of what he’s doing.”
All this makes for an emotional journey for the audience. “I hope there’s lots of laughter and tears both,” said Schuster. “I’m looking forward to bringing that to the audience. It’s going to be exciting.”
Alan Turing … Mark Schuster
Detective Mick Ross … Dan Schuster
Sara Turing … Crystal Meek
Christopher Morcom … John Lloyd Stafford III
Ron Miller … Andrew Johnson
John Smith … Dave McIntire
Dillwyn Knox … Bob Lancaster
Pat Green … Charlene Grinsell
Nikos … Kyle Hepperly
Breaking the Code at Wichita Community Theatre (include map)
Jan. 24 - Feb. 4, 2018
Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Tickets are $14 for adults or $12 for military/seniors/students (sales tax included). There is a special opening night ticket price of $10 on Jan. 24 only. Seating is general admission. Call (316) 686-1282 for reservations.
You can see the show for free by volunteering to work the Box Office or Snack Bar. Visit WCT’s volunteer signup page for information.
For more information about Wichita Community Theatre, including upcoming shows and opportunities, visit wichitact.org or follow them on Facebook.