Transported to London in 1941, we find ourselves signing up to join Bletchley Park’s codebreaking team. As is the case with immersive shows, each audience member can have a different experience. Mine began in Dilly Knox’ office, where amidst waffling and mumbling through his pipe, Dilly and Mavis taught us the basics of enciphering and deciphering. The bustling, buzzing feel was immediately established by their rushing and enthusiasm. The atmosphere soon changes when an inspector arrives and begins interrogating the staff.
The characters were fleshed out and engaging as they were based on real people and material was devised and improvised by the cast. The 1940’s idioms and accents were particularly impressive in their consistency and the rapport between the cast members created a warmth and a strong sense of a team. I managed to watch most of the actors but not all. Al Barclay’s eccentrically scatty and brainy Dilly Knox was excellent and really set the tone of the piece. His improvisation was quick and witty in response to audience members. Beth Jay’s Mavis was friendly and dithering and was also very responsive.
Sandy Murray’s portrayal of Gordon Welchman, the leader, was entertaining to watch with his quick wit, humour and charisma. Christopher Styles’ character Major Charles Richards was the only fictional character which I learnt later. Nevertheless, Styles played him with the same credibility as the other characters. His air of authority and quiet suspicion, as the antagonist were intriguing to watch. Timothy Styles’ Alan Turing was so timid and self-effacing that I did not initially notice him in the room. As he fumbled over his words, his character was endearing but I thought he could’ve conveyed more emotion at some points. But perhaps this was because I didn’t see as much of his performance.
The crypt was the perfect location for this show as it felt secret and cut off from the rest of the world. The detail was brilliant without being overwhelming or distracting. There were lots of little snippets of 1940’s life from a game of cahoots lying around, tea cosies and flasks of Bovril. The individual rooms were cosy, tight spaces with an old-timey feel to them because of the stone walls and the stale smell of the crypt.
As well as being a stimulating and entertaining evening, it really felt like we were in World War Two amongst professional cryptographers and masterminds. The cast brought these people and their stories to life in a way that cannot be done by merely reading or watching documentaries about them.
Playing until 28th May, https://www.designmynight.com/london/whats-on/immersive/illicit-secrets-bletchley
Reviewer: Riana Howarth
Reviewed: 6th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★