Characters in To Kill a Machine

Here our writer Catrin Fflur Huws shares more about the characters she chose to include in her telling of the Alan Turing story, the choices she made and the role of the characters in the play To Kill a Machine.

Christopher Morcom was Alan’s school friend. The letters Alan sent to Mrs Morcom after Christopher’s death from bovine tuberculosis indicate Alan’s fondness for Christopher. Christopher seemed to be able to succeed where Alan could not, but he also personified the idea that discretion might be the better part of valour, where Alan might antagonise. His role in the play therefore is to live your own truth without compromise, but to afford others the same freedom

Alan’s father seems to have been a distant figure in Alan’s life. He seems to have been eager for his sons to succeed, but to do so in a very regimented way. There was an expectation that education was training for the civil service, and for this reason he is very much at odds with Turing’s enthusiasm for knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Turing’s father also serves to make the point that Turing does of course end up working for the Government, but because of his fondness for research into matters scientific rather than in spite of it.

John Turing
As children and adolescents, Alan’s parents spent much of their time in India, and John Turing, Alan’s older brother therefore had the responsibility of looking after him.  Biographies of Turing refer to John having to ensure that his brother was presentable, even though sailor suits involved so many complicated pieces of clothing that it was impossible for Alan to remain tidy. John Turing later became a solicitor. In the play therefore he represents law and the desire to ensure that Alan conforms despite realising that he can fit the rules no better than he can fit a sailor suit.

The Interrogator
The Interrogator plays the role of all the authority figures in To Kill A Machine – he is the system in the form of the police officer, the prime minister, the schoolteacher, the university official, the secret service official,  the judge, the doctor and the interrogator in the imitation game.

Doctor Golla and Doctor Glass.
F.L Golla was the director of the Burden Neurological Institute at the University of Bristol. S.J Glass was an endocrinologist at Philadelphia University. Their work on the hormonal causes of homosexuality led to the Government’s decision to include the option to receive hormone injections instead of imprisonment as part of the law’s emphasis on treating rather than automatically punishing offenders.

The Betray
The Betray is the person who plays the system. To a large extent he is the mass of society who has no particular allegiance. He works with the system and for the system when it suits him, such as when he tests Turing in the guise of Arnold Murray, but has no loyalty to it, and therefore happily strings the court along in order to buy his freedom. This is also reflected in The Betray’s roles as a school pupil and  as Doctor Glass.

Gordon Welchman
Gordon Welchman was Turing’s contemporary at Bletchley. Although it was Turing who devised the bombes that would decipher the Enigma machines, Welchman’s insight was crucial in that his improvements to the design made it more efficient and effective than Turing had foreseen. Welchman’s life was also troubled – he too lost his security clearance and was unable to work on the things that mattered to him most. His contribution, although important, is often overlooked compared with that of Turing. In the play, Welchman provides a contrast for Turing – he is straightforward, and has clarity of thought whenTuring is confused.

Throughout the development of this play, people have asked why there are no female characters. Historically, the answer is simple – Turing’s world was very male. Intellectually, the answer is more complicated. Although his mother was a figure in his life, especially in his adulthood, to depict Alan’s mother in the play gives his life an Oedipal nuance that I do not see. I therefore feel that to include Sara Turing would be to imply that his relationship with his mother is to blame for…essentially his homosexuality. I very much doubt that theatre needs more bad mothers, especially ones that are written in to provide gender balance in the theatrical cast.

Joan Clark
Despite not being played by a human actress who has learned lines, Joan Clark is very much a character in the play. She is mentioned in several places in the play. In the play, she is credited with having been the catalyst that changes Turing’s perspective on matters such as the importance of sunflowers. She is also the means by which Alan faces the choice between erotic love and platonic friendship. She is the means by which Alan expresses his refusal to discriminate against people on the basis of unimportant characteristics – Alan does not see the woman, he sees the cryptanalyst, and cannot therfore understand why Joan is paid less than the men. However, if Joan Clark was portrayed by an actress, the audience would see the woman and overlook the cryptanalyst.

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