To Kill a Machine – King’s Head Theatre, London

Writer: Catrin Fflur Huws
Director: Angharad Lee
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree


The historic and ground-breaking Kings Head Pub Theatre, first founded since the days of Shakespeare, has continued its laudable work of putting on new and profound plays. It is currently running a double bill of Catrin Fflur Huws’ To Kill a Machine and Kate Lock’s Russian Dolls (see separate review). The whole evening lasts only three hours but to take in both powerful works in one go needs a degree of intellectual athleticism.

The former has transferred from sell-out performances at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. The programme notes describe it as “The Untold Story of Alan Turing” but this is stretching a point. Hugh Whitemore’s Breaking the Code of 1986 and its film version 10 years later were probably the first time the general public became aware of this remarkable figure. His portrayal in both of these by Derek Jacobi could justly be called “a hard act to follow”. Since Turing’s centenary, his story has come into the public domain often. Gwydion Rhys is an admirable successor.

We follow Turing from his school days, even his childhood, through Cambridge to Bletchley Park. As the lights go up, the audience, seated in the round, see a brooding man, crouched as if in deep meditation, prayer even. A solitary soul, the epitome of isolation, he sits beneath a hat-stand of a structure bearing various items pertaining to his life.

Silence is broken by three characters, played Rick Yale, Robert Harper and Francois Pandolfo who bounce in with artificial bonhomie to conduct a ridiculous personality quiz. In turn, they praise him, scold him, befriend him, apologise to him. The “game” continues to the accompaniment of gales of canned laughter. There is some business on the floor that amuses the front rows of the audience but is unfortunately not visible three rows back. However, a later sex scene, also conducted on the floor, does not need to be seen. The amount of huffing and puffing leaves nothing to the imagination.

The deep discussions of what makes a man different from a machine rage. A machine cannot lie, neither can it feel emotion. Is an emotionless, truthful man,then, just a machine? If a machine is feared, it must be smashed. Should this happen to a human being? The jury is out.

Runs until 23 April 2016 | Image: Keith Morris

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