Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Alan Turing – A Musical Biography | Alan Turing – Guilty of Love | Tinderbox Orchestra | FOUR
Alan Turing – A Musical Biography ***
Paradise in Augustines until 19 August
Alan Turing – Guilty of Love ****
Hill Street Theatre until 27 August
You wait years for a musical biography of Alan Turing at the Fringe, then two come along at once. Maybe there’s something in the air: certainly it feels entirely appropriate in 2023 to celebrate Turing as the man who saved countless lives during World War II by cracking the Nazi Enigma code at Bletchley Park, as well as an AI pioneer, and an inadvertent early gay activist, ultimately sacrificed for his sexuality. Whether musical theatre is the right format for those celebrations, though, is another question entirely.
Hour-long two-hander Alan Turing – A Musical Biography covers all of those achievements, but also takes the unusual and somewhat distracting step of introducing a Turing biographer in a parallel storyline that saps time and attention from Turing’s own life story. It’s a clear-sighted and well-meaning show, though, that nips nimbly through the core events in Turing’s life – his early love for fellow school pupil Christopher Morcom, his recruitment into secret code-breaking, his Snow White obsession, his aborted marriage, his post-war struggles for recognition. Writers Joel Goodman and Jan Osborne’s musical numbers tend towards the languid throughout, however, generating a general wash of quiet sadness across the whole show, rather than conveying particular moments vividly – though the performances by Joe Bishop as Turing and Zara Cooke as his biographer and a host of additional roles are strong and convincing.
Across town, Alan Turing: Guilty of Love has a namesake of mine as producer/director, though he isn’t me, nor any relation. The show is on a different scale entirely, at 90 minutes and with a cast of eight. It’s also a more complex and more rewarding work, zipping back and forth across Turing’s life to highlight themes and connections, and with early love Morcom (captured with wide-eyed gentleness by fine singer/guitarist Andrew Hornyak) hovering as a near-constant, angelic presence observing Turing’s later life. Composers Jane Bramwell and Michael Brand bring a lot of variety to their memorable songs, and make striking use of the large-scale vocal forces at their disposal in rich harmonisations and even a bit of intricate counterpoint. And while Jamie Sheasby’s Turing might be somewhat mannered in his nerviness, he’s also a compelling character who hides his frustration and grief behind driven efficiency, all of which Sheasby delivers in a very strong, supple vocal performance. Crucially, though, Guilty of Love isn’t shy of tugging on the heartstrings, in the idyllic lost love of Turing’s youth or the tragedy of his chemical punishment for homosexual behaviour and his early death. While not glossing over his professional achievements, Bramwell and Brand focus on Turing the man, so that by its quasi-religious conclusion, Guilty of Love is a proper tearjerker. David Kettle
Tinderbox Orchestra ****
Edinburgh Central Library (Venue 462), until 19 August
Fresh from their pivotal role in the International Festival’s opening weekend Community Over Chaos concert, where they shone vibrantly in a massed gathering of community bands, Edinburgh’s Tinderbox Orchestra publicise another commendable initiative with their run of Fringe concerts in the beautiful reading room space of Edinburgh Central Library – a national campaign to donate musical instruments to libraries for service users to borrow as they would a book. This young, hip orchestra are a persuasive advert for the galvanising power of access to instruments.
What the ensemble lose somewhat in the unfriendly acoustics of the space, they gain in atmosphere and their signature deconstructed approach to performance. As the audience file in, with optional earplugs and headphones offered on the door (don’t say you were not warned), the orchestra members are stationed around the opulent room – woodwind in section 8 (cookery, militia, bibliography) and suchlike.
Even these practised movers and shakers have to come together and they quickly assemble in front of their rock backline of drums, percussion, bass, guitar and keyboards to produce a literal blast of a sound. The cacophony won’t be for everyone but the energy is undeniable and infectious. The fun, impish collective choreography of their performance feels like a natural extension of the personality and charisma of the individual players.
Their eclecticism and dynamism is thrilling. A perky woodwind refrain is paired with wordless vocals, the fiddle frontline project strong folk energy during a dialogue with flute, their customary rapper partnerships up the ante, while a collaboration with The Jellyman’s Daughter provides a change of pace with the gentle singer/songwriter fare given a (relatively) subtle sonic swell.
Helen Crummy from Craigmillar Library performs her poems with alacrity while the Orchestra build their backing to a dramatic march, and there is still time to deliver a bouncing Balkan knees-up and a Scottish country dance-influenced hoolie to bring the audience to their feet. Fiona Shepherd
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) until 28 August
FOUR suffers from false advertising. Marketed as a show about a long-standing string quartet with live music, only two of the cast play, and instruments are, more often than not, mimed to background recordings. The action lacks rhythm and pace, and the storyline is confused, which in turn, results in an awkward delivery. But the plot is promising, its approach attractive. There is clear potential for a piece that seamlessly interweaves live classical music with a study of toxic cultures and dynamics of power in the performing arts. As it is, the gap between what’s expected and what is executed is impossible to ignore. Josephine Balfour-Oatts