REVIEW: Lovesong of the Electric Bear (Above the Arts Theatre)

image-4Snoo Wilson was one of the playwrights who revolutionised British theatre after 1968. Together with Howard Brenton, David Hare and Tony Bicât he founded the Portable Theatre Company, which also produced his early plays. His style was quirky and subversive, he abhorred naturalism. The Hope Theatre in association with DogOrange presents the European Premiere of Snoo Wilson’s play about Alan Turing – told from the perspective of Turing’s teddy bear.

Lovesong of the Electric Bear has a naturalistic beginning – Winston Churchill is told that Alan Turing is dead. But then it immediately turns into a fantasy. After Turing has taken the lethal bite from a poisoned apple – inspired by his favourite film “Snow White” –, his teddy bear Porgy wakes him and takes him on a journey of his life, starting with his childhood in France to his boarding school-days where he met his best friend Christopher. Turing’s mathematical genius is soon discovered and he makes a brilliant career in academia as well as being recruited as a codebreaker at Bletchley where his skills are essential for winning World War II. A highly complex and rather antisocial man, Turing prefers the company of machines to that of human beings. After the war he continues his research but all his important work is immediately forgotten when he admits to being gay and sexually active.

The walls of the auditorium are covered with equations and binary codes reflecting Turing’s world (design by Zoe Hurwitz). There are only few props but the actors use them to create any number of things, including a bicycle that Alan uses to ride to school, in this highly theatrical production. Directed by Matthew Parker, the Artistic Director of the Hope Theatre, the show is fast-paced and exciting as we accompany Alan Turing (Ian Hallard) and his fuzzy friend Porgy (Bryan Pilkington) on their journey. The rest of the cast portray the many different characters, who we encounter on the way, and they manage the often very sudden changes without a glitch. Ian Hallard conveys the intellectual arrogance and strangeness of the complex Alan Turing as he portrays him as a quirky and absent-minded man, splattered with ink, biting his nails, completely focussed on his work – to create “The Universal Machine”. Bryan Pilkington is a cuddly guardian angel in his bear suit, reminding one somewhat of Clarence in It’s A Wonderful Life, as he guides his friend through the pleasant and more unpleasant episodes of his rather short life. Laura Harling plays Turing’s friend Christopher and is then sent as a Christmas present from a different world to become the woman he is supposed to marry – Joan, his colleague at Bletchley. Alan’s mother (Helen Evans) is delighted but her son eventually breaks Joan’s heart. William Hartley is very good as his 7 different characters, ranging from Winston Churchill to a barman who performs as a drag queen in a gay bar. Chris Levens convinces as Turing’s lovers and gives a very funny portrayal of the judge who sentences Turing.

Although the play is quite long, many aspects of Turing’s life are only touched upon and it might be difficult to fully understand the story without having any knowledge of the man’s history at all.

Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Scott Rylander

Lovesong of the Electric Bear is playing at the Arts Theatre until 22 November. Click here for tickets

Contains strong language, scenes of nudity and strobe lighting. Suitable for 18+ only