Edinburgh Fringe 2023
You wait years for a musical about Alan Turing and then two arrive at the Edinburgh Fringe in the same year. This one, Alan Turing : A Musical Biography at Paradise in Augustines does what the title suggests and gives us a competent potted biography of Turing’s life from school to death, told through songs and short scenes.
Just two actors tell us Turing’s story. Alan Turing is very capably played by Joe Bishop and Zara Cooke adeptly plays Andrea and multiple other roles, both of them singing the seven or so songs mostly in two part harmony very effectively. Turing’s life is well documented, not least in the acclaimed feature film, The Imitation Game, making the details of his adult life and career especially well known. This show is a very competent and professional staging in all aspects of this trot through Turing’s life.
Having produced and directed many biographical plays myself over the years, I recognise the dilemma. Does one try to tell the whole life story of your subject, in this case in just 65 minutes? Or, does one choose a particularly seminal moment or event(s) in their life which one tells in much greater detail and which symbolise and capture the essence of who the person was and allows us to see the person up close. I have always opted for the latter and I wish this production had too. Given it is musical theatre and has songs, this allowed even less time for scenes that tell us the story. This choice of telling the whole life story inevitably meant a whistle stop tour through a list of the significant moments of his life. Consequently, Joan Greening’s script gives us few surprises or deep insights into this well-known life beyond a bullet point list of life events. There is even less time for the fascinating tribulations of his Enigma Code breaking and conviction for homosexuality in later life, as the first 50% of the production concentrates on his school and university life. A much more inventive structure than a chronological plodding through an already well-documented life would have given a chance for something richer and deeper. More time was lost on a fictitious biographer character agonising and singing about winning an award for her Turing biography, which could have been time spent on the grippingly unique aspects of Turing’s life ; being a hero and a criminal at the same time. This was squeezed into the last ten minutes. The word homosexual was used once and gay less than a handful of times, only in the final few minutes, making me feel that Turing’s sexuality was an awkward reality for the creators. What is unique and fascinating is Turing’s adult life and the massive contradiction between his genius and heroism and subsequent punishment, all of which was hurriedly summarised in the final short scenes. Joel Goodman and Jan Osborne’s music and songs are professional and competent but do not sparkle musically or lyrically. As an introductory overview of the main events in Turing’s life it delivers a professional, methodical hour of musical theatre; as an emotional, passionate exploration of a massive injustice to a national gay hero, it only hints at it in the closing minutes. I was left wishing that ratio had been reversed.