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That Is All You Need To Know

Insightful, innovative and immersive celebration of the untold story of Bletchley Park.
Oxford Playhouse, Thu 5 September 2013

September 5, 2013

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. 

September 5, 2013
That is All You Need to Know is “the untold story of Bletchley Park”, told through the scenes of those working at the Park, nicely choreographed summaries of wartime action, and some modern day subplots, supplemented by audio recordings of Bletchley Park veterans and wartime archive footage.

The aesthetic of the piece was wonderful. Staging, set, lighting and sound design were all beautifully judged, and worked well together. The skillful use of archive recording added real depth to the narrative. This is a properly beautiful show.

The acting, while generally good (and excellent from some cast members - Grace Chapman, especially, put in a lovely performance) was patchy, with some characters overacted and forced. In ensemble the actors were always fantastic, and the movement work was imaginative and at times enchanting.

There were a few framing plots, set in the present day, around the main action of the war - a committee working to save the park, Gordon Welchman writing a book and a woman researching a play. We only really needed one of these, and only Welchman’s plot thoroughly worked. The committee plot line really dragged the pace of the action down, and didn’t add a lot, and the self-consciousness of putting someone researching a play about Bletchley Park in your obviously well-researched play about Bletchley Park was grating.

There were some points where I wondered why we were being turned away from the action. Some of the key points of the war were told in summary, which was frustrating. I wanted to be in the room when the code book was handed over - better, I wanted to be in the submarine that sank as it was being retrieved. Because of this, and that there were so many plots going on, I felt we didn’t spend long enough with any of the characters, and the main story of the work was unclear. This made it difficult to connect to an emotional heart of the play.

It is worth pointing out that my reviewing sidekick doesn’t agree with any of these negative points. He thinks I’m being unfair, and totally disagrees that the play was difficult to engage with emotionally. He just loved it. I did too, really. Ultimately, this is a beautiful, good hearted piece of work.

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