There is something so fitting about the story of Bletchley Park being performed as a piece of theatre – with all that we can use to piece together its history being the spoken records and memories of the people who inhabited the centre of war-time code-breaking. It not only honours those remaining artifacts with which we can reconstruct the lives at Bletchley, but also the oral tradition which is at the root of theatre itself.
Idle Motion’s skills are in creating well-built images; we get a bird’s-eye view of Alan Turing riding his bike free of care, and see a submarine surprisingly emerging from the sea. Their stage-craft involves playful use of a simple but flexible set and they found seemingly never-ending ways to adapt filing cabinets into various set pieces. The movement and choreography was particularly strong, and the company shines the most with their ensemble movement sequences – a kind of montage of the life at Bletchley and the journey of the enigma machine to Britain were both slickly executed. Known also for their use of video projection work, Idle Motion have an impressive grasp of this medium, using it with faultless precision. The projections complete the tableaux constructed and add to the play’s aesthetic.
It took some warming to the inclusion of the modern-day characters. Initially they came across as an unnecessary framing device, distracting from the personal tales of the veterans and jarring with Gordon Welchman’s occasional narration about writing The Hut Six Story. However, it was only upon realizing the importance of the local community in saving the huts and manor house at Bletchley that the modern-day characters became believable and central to the whole narrative. Were it not for the dedicated people who fought for Bletchley Park Idle Motion may not have even been able to develop this work or share the stories of the hidden heroes.
The performance can only scratch at the surface of what went on at Bletchley Park, and we are still to this day discovering its many secrets, but even an 80 minute long theatrical scratching of sorts is fascinating, moving and so important.