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That Is All You Need To Know

That Is All You Need To Know followed Bromance on the first night of Pulse Festival 2015. The Idle Motion Theatre Company have developed quite a reputation for using sophisticated projection technology to create an absorbing context in which to tell theatrical stories about people. I was eager to see what they would do to tell the stories of the wartime Enigma codebreakers and of the enthusiasts who later saved Bletchley Park as a monument and a museum to these remarkable people. I was a little sceptical because the play is subtitled 'The untold story of Bletchley Park'; I have about a dozen books on the subject so I wondered how untold could this story be. Perhaps, I thought, the writers had found new oral history in Milton Keynes' Living Archive or conducted fresh interviews themselves. If they did, it did not show. There were no new stories here but what they did present was told effectively.

The production seems to have been based on two main sources: Gordon Welchman's 1982 book about Hut Six and the accounts of members of the Bletchley Park Trust. There was a passing mention of Frederick Winterbotham's 1974 book, which was the first public revelation of the wartime secrets, but the focus of the wartime story was on Welchman and his famous colleague Alan Turing. Interwoven with the story of the codebreaking was that of the saving of the manor house and the wartime huts from demolition and development as a housing estate. Telling two parallel stories on a monolithic set with no costume changes as actors switch between characters can be confusing but the script maintained the distinctions effectively even though there were few body language clues from the company.

Where there was confusion, however, was in the coherence of the form. Why, for example, was there a single dance interlude? At the end of BromancePaul Warwick (one of the China Plate directors who had programmed the festival) had encouraged members of the audience to stay on because Idle Motion's show also involved dynamic physical theatre. This one short scene was that dynamism; it was hugely overshadowed by the consummate mastery of Barely Methodical Troupe and it did not advance our understanding of Bletchley Park or its people.

The set was not, of course, entirely monolithic. There were a few small pieces of stage furniture and some elegant projection to indicate the changing use of the space over historical time. The appeal of the projection lay more in the ingenuity of the projection surfaces than in the projected imagery but the effect was consistently pleasing.

This all seems rather negative and I feel that I should clarify that I enjoyed the show; it held my interest for all of its eighty minutes and I was impressed by the quality of the acting. My companion, however, had some trouble with the plot at times; for her it was an untold story and without a stronger grasp of the history she was not always carried through the transitions. This is a good show that could be a great show with a few modifications: particularly stronger indicators of the temporal setting of each scene and a sharper focus on the main thrust of each narrative.

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grin

September 2015

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