Alan Turing

February 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Event Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see The Imitation Game the other night and had a mixed reaction.

Benedict Cumberbatch, as Alan Turing, turns in a convincing performance; as does Alex Lawther, as the young Turing at boarding school.

On reflection I see the clever way the writers and directors managed to convey the crucial part the breaking of the German enigma machine generated ciphers played in shortening the war. The film simplifies events and uses a small handful of characters to convey a very broad set of issues; this avoids the need for a commentary track, or subtext, or more characters. The film is very tight, it all focuses on a handful of people in Hut 8.

Turing is vested just about every key decision and break through. So it is Turing who single handedly designed, costed, and built the machine that automated the repeated trials needed to find the key(s). It is Turing who decides to not use the intelligence freely, to avoid letting the German know that their confidential communications had been compromised. It is Turing who decides to recruit mathematicians and people good at crosswords. Turing who writes to Churchill asking for money to build a single electronic machine.

Unfortunately, it is not true. In fact there were close to 10,000 people working at (and around) Bletchley Park. Turing played a vital role; but there were others, but they get little screen time. Most unfortunately, Commander Denniston, who ran Bletchley Park, (played by Charles Dance channeling Tywin Lannister) comes across as a tyrant who actively worked against Turing and did not want Turing at all. This is so far from the truth as to insult the legacy of both men.

Cumberbatch’s puts in a great portrayal Turing; but I suspect it was of a different Turing – a fictional Turing, carefully crafted to tell a story based on the events at Bletchley Park, not the history of Bletchley Park. An terrible choice is to introduce the idea that Turing aided Russian spies (during the War) and was suspected of being a Russian spy (after the war). This is a terrible slight, with no basis in fact.

I went to see the film because I was going to Professor Rod Downey‘s talk on Turing and in the promotional material for the talk, it mentioned Bletchley Park.

Turing wrote one of the single most important papers of the 20th century on computers – providing a workable conceptual basis for them. Turing used what came to be known as ‘Turing machines‘ as part of a proof that it is not possible to proof the truth or falseness of any first-order predicate logic statement. During World War II, the direct application of this conceptual basis was to build specialised electrical machines to find the daily key for the code generated from German engima machines. Today, all programmable computers – general purpose computers – owe their origins to the description of a Turing machine.

Surely Alan Turing is one of the most unrecognised people of the 20th century.

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Timon of Athens – Summer Shakespeare 2015

February 15, 2015 at 8:19 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to this play the other night – put on by the (Wellington) Summer Shakespeare Trust.

Timon, played by Hayden Frost of The Almighty Johnsons fame, is a wealthy citizen of Athens who is generous to his friends and philanthropic to the needy. His friends turnout to be greedy and corrupt. Despite the efforts of Flavia, his steward, played by Emma-Yvonne Simons, his generousness and good works consumes his wealth and eventually he is penniless.

There is a series of scenes towards the end of Act I, where Timon’s friends show their true colours. To repay them, Timon stages one last feast, and serves up water and bones!

Act I ends with general Alcibiades declaring his disgust at the Athenian Senate for not showing clemency to a decorated Athenian soldier, and former subordinate of Alcibiades. I am sure that the scene is suppose to reinforce the disloyal nature of the senators (who are also Timon’s ‘friends’); but for me this does not work. Historically, the citizen soldiers of Athens fought to defend their city as a physical location and as a philosophical ideal. There can be no clemency; for that would mean no rule-of-law. But nevertheless the scene is set for disaffection to be harvested later.

Act II opens with Timon practically naked living in the open under a blanket. We see him railing against the city and it wealthy inhabitants. He finds buried treasure and is chanced upon by Alcibiades, leading his soldiers, towards Athens. Instead of trying to dissuade his friend from his course of action, he gives gold to the army, to encourage them to greater deeds. Similarly, Timon supports a trio of thieves, whom he sets upon Athens. The only Athenian Timon truly rewards is Flavia; Flavia restores Timon’s faith in Man, by giving Timon the last of his money, without knowing the Gods have played one last joke on Tiomon (through the buried treasure). But, according to Wikipedia, it is not enough, for Timon to stop undermining Athens (whom he previously loved so much). Timon cannot change his mind, because he dies (of presumably a broken heart) and is therefore unavailable to be persuaded by his former friends to save them from Alcibiades.

This is one of the Bard’s lesser known works; and has not been performed in New Zealand for a century and a half. I welcomed the Trust’s choice, but I wish the production gave more ‘handrails’ to an audience unfamiliar with the dialogue.

Still worth a go.

‘My’ performance was held indoors. I, along with a number of other people, got caught out with the venue change. So check the facebook page and the web site (warning it is not mobile friendly). There is no signage at the Dell. If you arrive and find it deserted and the loudspeakers still wrapped in black plastic, then head to Wellington High School 🙂

The Naked Time – Star Trek in the Park

February 12, 2015 at 9:27 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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Star Trek must be moving mainstream – after all people are putting it on live and outdoors.

So, I went to the opening night of Summer Star Trek – in Aro Park, in Aro Valley. This year it is “The Naked Time“; next year it will be “Mirror Mirror“. I know because part of the pre-show entertainment is the audience voting for next year’s production :-).

Also part of the pre-show entertainment was the “Space Babes” who sang a number of space themed David Bowie numbers. But the best number was “Star Trekking” – with the audience singing along.

The ‘episode’ kicked off with Bethany Millar (one of the “Space Babes”) singing the introductory sound track – she did the whole ‘wooo’ sequence, without the musicians using an electric keyboard. In fact the live music was a flute, cello (played by the versatile Miller), violin (played by Joel Miller who also sang with the Space Babes), and an accordion.

The plot is as I remember it. Though some of the characters have had their sex swapped – presumably to cater for the cast: McCoy; Zulu; Riley and Joe Tormolen all get switched. Captain Kirk is played by James Bayliss. He and whoever played Spock – there is no cast list – provide the back bone of the story – as they did in the original TV episode.

There is only one set, and there is some very clever prop switches. So that one back drop serves as the bridge, the sickbay, a corridor, a science base, an engine room; brilliantly done. The amazing sliding doors were re-created with pitch perfect sound effects – in a very clever way.

The episode itself is noteworthy because it introduces homeopathy – through the concept of water behaving as alcohol.

Worth going to: bring a thick picnic blanket; a donation; a picnic dinner; and prepare to boldly go where you have not been before.

Twelfth Night IN re.SPACE

February 12, 2015 at 8:12 am | Posted in Play Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Bright Orange Walls’ production of Shakespeare’ Twelfth Night in re.Space (on Victoria Street). It was very much theatre in-the-round, as there were two sets of almost parallel seats in between which the action took place. The venue looked a bit like an art gallery – and it certainly functioned as one in parts. Some of the cat did double and triple duty getting the minor characters into the action.

Major Characters:

  • Duke Orsino – Jonathan Price;
  • Viola – Ella Hope-Higginson;
  • Sebastian – Patrick Carroll
  • Countess Olivia – Brynley Stent;
  • Maria (Olivia’ maid) – Johanna Cosgrove.

Since the play is staged in an art gallery, the Duke is often working on a painting. There is a Dorian Grey quality to it all: the canvas is blank at the beginning and gets painted over as the play progresses; at times the canvas paints itself. There is a performance art within performance art quality to it, as each night a new painting emerges.

Staying with the art gallery scene much of the fights are paint fights.

Worth a go; and worth seeing the most static art on display in the rest of re.Space.

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