To Kill a Machine is a new full length play written by Welsh writer Catrin Fflur Huws. It is an empowering and heartbreaking story of a man guilty only of knowledge, homosexuality and refusing to live a lie who was turned into a hero, vilified for his sexuality and suicide and resurrected to hero after his death.
“Turing’s life work was the development of some of the fundamental ideas of information and computation, which underlie the subject. Plausible and technically-accurate depictions of science on stage are extremely rare, but they are extremely helpful to bring the subject to life in the minds of students and their parents. Moreover, anchoring a technical subject into the web of human experience and history (especially British history) gives a far more healthy and holistic view of a subject that can be seen as very narrow and geeky.” Simon Peyton Jones, Computing at School
“both play and production are highly impressive, boding well for the future of what appears to be an ambitious new company” Othniel Smith
“It is well known among the computer science community that Turing’s influence is much deeper than his time spent at Bletchley Park but these aspects are rarely seen beyond that one, albeit, fabulous story. It is particularly helpful to place such pioneers in the context of a real human story that our children can, hopefully, identify with. I am sure that this play will be relevant and attractive for many school teachers, pupils, undergraduates and the like. Decent portrayals of science, maths and computing are rare in our theatres and such work seeking to heighten awareness of the work and impact of Alan Turing is to be welcomed.” Simon Humphreys, National Coordinator Computing at School
What is the play about?
The play examines the life of war-time code breaker Alan Turing examining his pioneering work considering whether a machine could think. The play asks the question what then is the difference between a human and a machine? And if a human is prevented from thinking, does he then become a machine?
To Kill a Machine does not shy away from the truth of his story - his homosexuality, the injustice of his conviction, the brutality of the chemical castration, his treatment by the government following his conviction through to his only very recent pardon. Nor does it shy away from the complexity of Alan Turing’s brilliant mathematical mind and instead embraces his work about machines and places it at the heart of the play.
"The tension is mounting here on To Build a Machine. Can the interrogator crack the code? Will the contestants keep their secrets? It's time to play on. It's time to play - Imitation". To Kill a Machine, Catrin Fflur Huws
So that is the play, what else does the project involve?
Not only do we want to tour the play but we are committed to promoting the life, work and legacy of Alan Turing beyond the play. We want to share the amazing stories of Alan Turing – throughout his life, and also the impact that his work continues to make to the day. His achievements during the war were incredible but there is so much more and we want to share that – through workshops, talks, debates, on-line discussions, hackathons, tweetups, blogs, articles. Basically anywhere there is a platform to talk about we’ll be there – talking about our play and talking about Alan Turing.
"'Dip the apple in the brew let the sleeping death seep through' Half of it poisoned. The other half is not. Snow White will eat the poisoned apple of course" To Kill a Machine, Catrin Fflur Huws
The story so far
In 2012 Catrin Fflur Huws went to visit Bletchley Park with her computer scientist husband Jim Finnis and looked around an exhibition of Alan Turing – his life and work at Bletchley Park. She had been selected for the Sherman Cymru and Aberystwyth Arts Centre Spread the Word project and had to write a short play. She chose to write a short play about Alan Turing.
She was particularly inspired by the story of a man being elevated to a hero, vilified and then resurrected to a hero after his death, she then read his article, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (Turing, A.M. (1950)) in which Turing begins by asking two key questions: what is the difference between a man and a woman and what is the difference between a man and a machine. In addition to that Catrin is a law lecturer at Aberystwyth University which adds yet another dimension of her interest in performance and law and using real trial transcripts to create work – the court scene in the play is based on a real transcript of a trial for Gross Indecency.
Her short play was selected for a reading – but that wasn’t enough. She decided she needed to write the play into a full length play and she sought out a producer which is when Scriptography productions became involved.
It is no accident that we are called Scriptography – To Kill a Machine was the start of the company and it will always be at the heart of the company and in respect of Alan Turing and the many ways he changed our lives we named the company Scriptography.
Aberystwyth University’s Computer Science department were holding a centenary event celebrating the birth of Alan Turing – they invited us to perform a reading of the play as part of it. Since that first reading they have remained committed to the project and BCS Mid Wales paid for the very first programme which included articles about Turing’s work – mathematical patterns in nature, artificial intelligence and the Turing Machine.
The play was produced as a pilot – in 8 days because that was all we could afford to do. Angharad Lee joined the company as director, actors Gwydion Rhys – who had the overwhelming task of bringing to life Alan Turing in just 8 days, alongside Gareth Bale, Ceri Murphy, Stephen Marzella and Thomas Middler who joined as our male ensemble. It seemed an impossible task – to mount a complex play featuring historical scenes alongside a game show! But not only did we do it – Rupert built an incredible set and we created a soundscape too.
It was first performed at Aberystwyth Arts Centre who also provided rehearsal space. We were also invited to perform it at Sherman Cymru Foyer. In looking for possible other places to perform we approached Sybil Crouch at Taliesin Arts Centre – though they didn’t have space she put us in touch with Arnold Beckman in Swansea University’s Computer Science department. Arnold was arranging a science cafe centenary event and invited the play to be performed at it.
It was that performance to an audience of computer scientists and ardent Alan Turing fans where we realised the potential of this play by Catrin Fflur Huws and with Angharad as director. Not only a great play but a play that computer scientists would embrace, a play that would instigate discussions, a play that would do justice to the legacy of Alan Turing. A play that told the story of Alan Turing the way he would have wanted it to be told.
Here are a few reviews of that
early pilot production
Review by Amanda Clare, Lecturer in Computer Science,
Review by Othniel Smith
"My feelings, my love was blind. They could discern no difference between a love for a man and love for a woman." To Kill a Machine, Catrin Fflur Huws
What do we want to do next?
In the last few years we have continued to develop the play with Catrin, though it was already a unique, innovative play we supported her in developing it, adding a few new scenes to the biographical scenes including a great scene about Alan Turing signing up for the National Guard and integrating fully the bizarre game show into the play.
Not only that but Scriptography Productions has been producing more plays, creating more work, supporting other writers and building itself into the company that could do justice to this great project.
In 8 days and with minimal budget we achieved something incredible – imagine what we could do with more rehearsal time, a decent production budget and a production and marketing staff to support it.
We already have a tour of Wales booked including Arad Goch in Aberystwyth, Theatr Brycheiniog, Torch Theatre, Taliesin Arts Centre, Blackwood Miners Institute, The Miners and Theatr Hafren.
In addition we will be taking the play to Arcola Theatre in London and then later in the year we will be presenting the play at Edinburgh fringe festival where we will be able to invite venue programmers from around the UK and festivals throughout the world.
With your support we can get the play out there, we can get reviews, we can get more tours booked.
This is the story of a play, a writer and a company being brought to life and we are especially proud that it with such an incredible story as that of Alan Turing, the man, the work, the legacy. A man whose life was cut tragically short but whose legacy continues to impact throughout the world. We hope that you will want to support us and follow us on this journey.
“I would have said that I love you and that I adore you and that you mean the world to me. And I would have said why did you have to die and why did you leave me and I love you and I love you and I love you. Ever since that night looking at the stars.” To Kill a Machine, Catrin Fflur Huws
What are the costs involved in the project?
The costs includes the costs of paying actors, director, writer, producer, designer of the set, lighting and sound, music composed especially for the project, it will build a set, make the props and costumes. It will pay to hire a van to tour the project around the country and a stage manager and technician to tour with the show. It will cover the costs to design and make leaflets and posters, it pays for people to promote the project. It will pay for everything involved in rehearsing, producing and the tour in Wales and London from the petrol in the van to the silver spray to paint the set.
“Just tell the court what it wants to hear, and you're a free man Alan. You can carry on with your work. You can even carry on with your life as long as you're careful.” To Kill a Machine, Catrin Fflur Huws
What will the money do for the project?
The project (rehearsals and tour of Wales and London) will cost £38,000 in total, taking the show to Edinburgh will cost another £20,000 and we are raising money from many different sources. Pressure on arts funding is immense at the moment and so we have diversified the way we are raising the money as much as we can to create a sustainable financial framework for the project. However if we can raise at least £8,000 here then we can match fund that from other sources.
The money raised will allow us to rehearse, and produce the project, it will cover the costs of the initial tour. This will get the project seen and establish a reputation which will then allow is to sustain the project to keep touring it with all costs covered by fees paid. Basically this campaign will launch it and beyond that its future will be for as long as there is an audience for it and so theatre venues who want to book it.
Risks and challenges
Creating a great arts project, especially a new play is always faced with challenges – achieving our funding goal is the main one. Without support and funding from a number of sources the project can’t happen but we have put a great strategy in place, we are keeping costs low, realistic but low and we are working on a number of options to ensure that our financial requirements are met.
We are a new company so we’ve ensured we have the right expertise to get us through. We have also sought collaborations and partnerships – Arad Goch is a co-producer who will provide rehearsal support, technical advice, marketing advice – basically anything we need to know they can help us with. In addition we are an associate company at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and can call on their vast experience of all aspects of arts production if we need it.
We are a new company though and with those risks come some advantages – we are going to be innovative, we are going to be positive, we are going to take risks, we are going to approach things in a new way because we think taking risks and facing challenges is good.
We think risks and challenges can lead to creative approaches, can lead to innovative breakthroughs.
After all Alan Turing took risks and he faced challenges and we want to be inspired to do things the way he did.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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