An interview with arts producer and playwright Sandra Bendelow about the recent production of new play To Kill a Machine which will be heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August to be part of the Zoo Venues programme.
How did you get involved in the project?
Back in 2011 I was selected as writer to be part of the Sherman Cymru and Aberystwyth Arts Centre Spread The Word project along with Catrin so I was in the room when she first pitched the idea. I remember thinking what an amazing idea it was for a play not just because it was about Alan Turing but also the idea Catrin had for how she was going to tell that story. Then after Catrin wrote the short play she decided she wanted to write it into a full length play and approached me to help her produce it. She did just want to write it and put it on for one night in Aberystwyth but I could see the potential for it to be a huge project. I pushed to get it out there as a pilot project in 2012 – we took it to a science cafe event at Swansea University celebrating the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth. It was at this event that I realised exactly how incredible the play was – the audience was entirely computer scientists and mathematicians who worshipped Alan Turing. Also they were incredibly defensive of the Alan Turing legacy because of how badly he had been treated by society, government and history. It was incredibly exciting and terrifying at the same time. But they absolutely loved the play, as a play about Alan Turing and also because of the way Catrin embeds his work into the play.
How did the tour go?
We had incredible responses from audiences and also from critics. It’s had brilliant reviews which is always great to get for a show; the writing, the performances, the direction, the set – all getting exceptionally positive responses. But also the audience response has just been so fantastic. It’s not an easy play to watch – but it does have lots of humour and endearing moments which the audiences loved. We have so many people commenting on how extraordinary Gwydion Rhys is as Alan Turing. Catrin’s writing has been compared to Beckett, as feedback for a writer goes, I don’t think it gets better than that. Most importantly we have shown a side of Alan Turing’s story which has not been told before and we have made people really think. It seems to working really well as a play in the very intimate spaces like Arcola in London which bodes well for Edinburgh as the space we are in at Zoo, The Aviary is very similar. I think that in a small space what Alan Turing endures and is subjected to during the course of the play is literally too close for comfort. I’ve watched the play countless times and I cry every time I see it. The only thing that varies is the point at which I start crying. Alan Turing’s life story is just so heartbreaking.
As Alan Turing’s story became more well known – with the government pardon and the Hollywood film – what do you think makes this telling of the story so unique.
Catrin’s telling of the story doesn’t shy away from telling it the way it should be told. It doesn’t simplify the story or shy away from the harsher elements of it like the gross indecency conviction and the chemical castration. Also though she has written Turing as she sees him, a fun loving and highly humorous man who made friends, worked well with colleagues and who fell deeply in love as a young boy with Christopher Morcam. Christopher tragically died young but Turing carried that love with him for the rest of his life and at the heart of Catrin’s play is an incredibly touching and beautiful love story. The cast we have are just amazing alongside Gwydion Rhys as Alan Turing we have Rick Yale, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper playing about 15 characters between them – the cast never leave the stage so we watch them transform from character to character which is mesmerising. One of my favourite moments of the play is when Rick steps from the Game Show Host into Arnold Murray. It is directed by Angharad Lee and her impact on the play and Catrin’s re-development was hugely significant – adding a visual and very physical aspect to the play.
What is next for To Kill a Machine?
We head to Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the whole three weeks of the festival where will be meetings lots of programmers from venues and festivals in the UK and all around the world. We have had interest expressed already about touring the play to international festivals. It is all a bit surreal that as a small company from Aberystwyth this time next year we could be embarking on a world tour with the play. But then it is a really great play and we want as many people as possible to see it.
What is next for Scriptography Productions?
I do sometime wonder what we will do next, how will we ever find a project to produce as good as this one? But we are about to start the search for the next To Kill a Machine, the next idea that we can develop over a few years and eventually produce and tour. It is going to be a really difficult play to follow. But we’re confident that somewhere out there in Aberystwyth a writer has an idea that will eventually become an amazing play.
To Kill a Machine written by Catrin Fflur Huws, produced by Scriptography Productions, performed by Gwydion Rhys, Rick Yale, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper, directed by Angharad Lee will be at Zoo: Aviary Venue 124 7th – 31st August 8.55 PM
If you would like to know more about To Kill a Machine or Scriptography Productions you can contact the company at firstname.lastname@example.org