Review: Pardon Me Alan Turing (BATS Theatre)
Updated: Jun 2
Taking historic figures and working them into a fictional story is usually worked to educate about their lives, or to entertain by putting them into farcical situations for the sake of comedy. It is not often they are used to persuade and create conversation. "Pardon Me Alan Turing" looks at the cruel convictions for homosexuality prior to its legalisation in the 60s in the England and Wales, and the attempts to compensate in recent years with the Alan Turing law pardoning the offences. Framed as a research project by a blossoming couple, one a married man and columnist played by David Capstick and the other a university student played by Andrew Parker, the two learn about the injustices faced by Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing, who are brought back to life on stage by Geoff Allen and Joseph Wycoff respectively.
The framing of this political comedy acts as the perfect way to introduce the famous characters and their stories whilst retaining narrative flow and plot (that being of whether the relationship will hold together and whether the project will come to anything). All the segments we see from the lives of Wilde and Turing are relevant, many are humorous and others are moving. Some moments combine all three, such as when we see Wilde and Turing receive their sentences from the judges played completely over the top, illustrating the historic vindictive attitude towards homosexual love in a way that is humorous yet bitterly truthful. This is not a strict and linear retelling of history - real and written characters have conversation, observe each other, break the fourth wall, and yet it never feels confusing or messy, testament to the pacing and narrative structure of the writing.
When it comes to the performances it is easy to pick out Allen's Oscar Wilde as the audience favourite. Theatrical in every line delivery and gesture, he fills the stage, with his body language noticeably turned towards the audience throughout. Nonetheless every actor gave entertaining and sincere performances; Wycoff's understated humbleness and anxiety in the role of Turing tugging on heartstrings in certain scenes (such as the disappointment on his face when he asks if the law named after him is what he will be remembered for - a gay martyr) and providing a contrast to Allen's eccentric Wilde. Jacqui Whall performs in a variety of rolls and still gives each character she plays personality and depth. Her performance as Wilde's wife Constance is especially notable, as it reflects on the lack of freedom afforded to her by her husband's frolics in London with his lover, particularly as a woman. Details like this look from a different perspective at how injustices overlap, whilst giving Wilde's character faults in his neglect of his responsibilities adds to the complexity of his portrayal.
The message of the piece is clear but it never feels forced. On the contrary, it questions itself - whether the Alan Turing law was honourable, whether it was insulting, whether it was enough, and crucially if it wasn't enough, what will be satisfactory? Whether you are wanting to see an entertaining piece of theatre or a reflection of historic injustice, "Pardon Me Alan Turing" is worth seeing. Four stars.