Review: To Kill A Machine A Pale Imitation Of The Life Of Alan Turing

To Kill a Machine at King's Head Theatre ★★☆☆☆

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 34 months ago
Review: To Kill A Machine A Pale Imitation Of The Life Of Alan Turing To Kill a Machine at King's Head Theatre 2
© Keith Morris

To Kill a Machine at King's Head Theatre re-tells the story of the life of Alan Turing in the light of his appalling treatment after the war, when he was chemically castrated for having sex with a man.

Told through the lens of a TV game show, Catrin Fflur Hews's play focuses on Turing's persecution as a gay man, rather than repeating the story of how he came to invent the world's first computer at Bletchley Park.

Although this is a laudable aim, challenging the audience to focus on the more uncomfortable aspects of his story, it is very sloppily done.

The game show is chosen to reflect Turing's own concept of an 'imitation game' to determine whether or not machines are capable of human thought. Rick Yale and Robert Harper play smarmy game show hosts who act as puppet masters in Turing's (Gwydion Rhys) life.

Meanwhile, Cordelia Ashwell's chequerboard set represents an artificial intelligence sprouting like a tree, with objects from Turing's life hung from metal branches. Sadly the circular staging feels very awkward in the angular King's Head space and the actors visibly struggle to navigate smoothly around it.

With so many, albeit interesting, ideas vying for attention the end result is far too busy for comfort. Worse than this, the game show hosts are reductive stereotypes created out of thin air; their presence an annoying distraction from the far more subtle portraits of Turing and his various friends and lovers (Francois Pandolfo).  

To Kill a Machine is strongest in the moments when its fussy concept can be ignored due to some extremely good acting. Rhys's portrayal of Turing is heartbreakingly vulnerable but also inspiring as he refuses to turn away from who he is, with devastating results.

To Kill a Machine is on at the King's Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, N1 1QN until 23 April. Tickets £15-£25. Londonist saw this on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 10 April 2016