Lovesong of the Electric Bear
is the European premiere of playwright Snoo Wilson’s 2003 take on the story of Alan Turing; his incredible achievements and appalling treatment by the British government.
Wilson sadly never got to see the play produced in the UK as he died in 2013, but it’s clear that producer Cas Hodges intention is to honour its writer who wrote about Turing a good decade before his story had become of significant interest to the mainstream.
The play begins in Turing’s last moments, having poisoned himself with cyanide, as he is taken by the hand by his favourite teddy bear to look back at his life. We see Turing as a sensitive child growing into an eccentric adult who excels academically and is snapped up by the British government to join the war effort. Lovesong delves further into Turing’s personal life than the Benedict Cumberbatch film The Imitation Game, showing his restricted relationship with the young man he was seeing that lead to his trial for gross indecency. There are even scenes portraying Turing’s trip to New York where he meets other gay men, some in drag, in a local gay bar.
The play is very stylistic and surreal, with a wide range of characters advancing on the audience from all sides while lights flash and computers whir. With a huge 6ft walking, talking teddy bear, it sometimes feels like a hybrid of A Christmas Carol and an episode of 70s Children’s TV programme Rainbow. If you like this style of theatre, great, if not it is somewhat overwhelming but in its favour: the production is truly outstanding. From set and sound design to a cast of a quality you wouldn’t expect to see in such a small fringe venue, there is much to enjoy.
Ian Hallard makes an outstanding Turing, providing him with angst and intelligence and gives us some insight into what the man must have endured. One cannot help but be moved when Bryan Pilkington’s teddy bear Porgy pleads with the genius to discard his poisoned apple. We’ll never really know much more about Turing’s innermost thoughts, but Lovesong of the Electric Bear should be cherished as one of the first works of art to address this most horrendous of injustices.
Lovesong of the Electric Bear plays at the Hope Theatre, Islington until 21st March.