Illicit Signals Bletchley, CoLab – Review

For 50 years after the Second World War, what went on in Bletchley Park was kept a State secret. With hindsight, we now know the groundbreaking work that the codebreakers accomplished there, which cut short the length of the war and saved millions of lives. But for this department to carry out its work unhindered, secrets had to be kept and security was considered of paramount importance. However, that didn’t stop rumours circulating regarding security leaks and the senior members of the team were placed under scrutiny… Written and directed by Christopher Styles, Illicit Signals Bletchley is an immersive, theatrical experience that places the audience into the heart of wartime operations.

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L-R: Amelia Stephenson, Edward Cartwright, David Alwyn, Beth Jay & Gabriel Burns 

Upon arriving at ‘Bletchley Park’, the audience signs a form that compels them to secrecy and are warned about the grave consequences for breaking this rule. They are then called out by name and allocated to a specific ‘hut’ (‘6’, ‘8’, or ‘the Cottage’). However, for a handful of people, they will be given additional duties. Pre-selected before the show begins, they are taken to see Lt. Henry Tailor (Jaya Baldwin) and head of security Charles Richards (Sandy Murray) for their other assignment – to keep tabs on the senior hut leaders and their associates, and report back later.

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Scrutinising the ‘usual suspects’ Jaya Baldwin and Sandy Murray

The first half of the evening, the ‘spies’ and the rest of the ‘codebreakers’ work on the ‘cribs’ – the encrypted messages that give clues to whereabouts of the Third Reich’s naval vessels and admiralty. While two groups within each hut work on separate parts of the information, they’re all collated later with the other huts so that the bigger picture is revealed. It’s at this juncture that the focus shifts from the cribs to the hut leaders themselves.

Much like a crime drama, certain facts about the respective staff are revealed over time. This occurs throughout the compound which the codebreakers as ‘observers’ are privy to, as well as in ‘private’ cross-examinations by Richards. When these occur, the ‘spies’ as part of their ‘job description’ are encouraged to take part and ask questions about what they’ve seen/heard.

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Inseparable: Amelia Stephenson and Edward Cartwright

There’s no shortage of people under suspicion. ‘Dilly’ Knox (David Alwyn) is in charge of the facility, but judging by the tea cosy he wears on his head, maybe the pressure is getting to him. Then there’s Gordon Welchman (Tom Black) who is calm and collected when discussing work matters, but visibly irritable when the conversation turns to himself. As the undeniable – if unscrutable – genius at Bletchley Park, Alan Turing (Edward Cartwright) and his idiosyncrasies are ‘tolerated’, yet seldom understood. His conduit to the world at large, Joan Clarke (Amelia Stephenson) is invaluable. Meanwhile, Mavis Lever (Beth Jay) is a polyglot, but rather than working on the premises in a senior capacity, she’s employed only as a secretary. Is she aggrieved at this? In any case, her ‘confidante’ is hut leader Keith Batey (Gabriel Burns), but ‘relationships’ at Blechley are not encouraged – since “Loose lips sinks ships”…

Knowing all of this, what will you do..?

© Michael Davis 2018

Illicit Signals Bletchley runs at the CoLab Factory, (74 Long Lane, London SE1 4AU) on Wednesday to Sunday evenings until 26th January. Nearest tube station: Borough.

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