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Written By:

Anne Fortune

by Anne-Louise Fortune

Alan Turing – A Musical Biography is one of two musicals about the life of the late computing genius being staged at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Here, two actors tell their story in 65 minutes, with one, Joe Bishop, playing Turing, and the other, Zara Cooke playing Andrea, as well as all the other characters. 

The framing device for this musical is that Andrea is a writer and has written a biography of Alan Turing’s life, which has been nominated for a prestigious award. We follow Andrea as she deals with the pressures of her family, who think she should be writing ‘proper novels’, the apathy of her partner, who fails to show for the award ceremony, and her own grief. As the narrative unfolds, we learn more of Andrea’s motivation for writing the biography. 

As Andrea outwardly monologues about her book, key scenes come to life in simple, considered staging, where Bishop’s Turing grows from schoolboy to scholar to PhD student to mathematician, employed at Bletchley Park. Along the way, some of the less well-known aspects of Turing’s life are touched upon: his prowess as a sportsman – Turing was both a rower and a runner during his time at Cambridge; a holiday in Germany where Turing appears to have realised the Nazi threat years before others; his time at Princeton. 

The production also takes the opportunity to make some pertinent political points. In an early scene depicting Turing’s time at Sherborne School, his teachers become concerned about Alan’s interest and excellence in science subjects. The education system at the time prioritised the humanities, especially the classics, considering studying science to be a waste of time. As a commentary on the lack of foresight present within educational policy and of the extent to which a pupil’s natural aptitude for a subject is often the subject of derision for not meeting ‘current priorities’, this is one of a number of delightful moments scattered throughout the narrative which serve to remind us that the politicians do not always know what is best, either for the country or its individual citizens. 

As the title suggests, this is a musical, and a pleasing variety of melodies accompanies lyrics that move the story along as they occur. The songs are well placed within the narrative, serving to direct the audiences’ attention to key moments in Turing’s story. Joe Bishop has trained as a dancer, and this shows in his performance, as he imbues Alan with an ease of movement and a litheness that suggests an individual who passed through the world differently.

Difference is the key motivator for Alan as portrayed here – ‘an odd number in an even world’ – his understanding of mathematical concepts far in advance of others in his class at school or university. Milestones in Turing’s life pass by quickly but are placed well within the script, meaning that we understand Alan as a man and not just as a cruncher of numbers. He is humanised and made into a whole character rather than being reduced to an aloof genius. 

This was a well-plotted, well put together musical, that gave a good overview of Turing’s life whilst making him a person to be empathised with, not pitied, understood, not stereotyped. A lovely piece of musical theatre that humanises the man behind the headlines.


Alan Turing – A Musical Biography, continues at the Edinburgh Fringe until 19th August. It will appear in London’s West End, at Wonderville on Haymarket, in early 2024

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