Review: Illicit Secrets: Bletchley

Title: Illicit Secrets: Bletchley
Style: WW2 Codebreaking drama based on real people
Where: Colab Factory, 74 Long Lane, London SE1 4AU
When: 8.00 pm until 28th August
To Note: Mobility needed to get around the rooms

Rating: 4.5/5

Another World War Win at the Colab Factory.

Illicit Secrets: Bletchley is a very clever drama. Like a predecessor Hidden Figures, it uses immersive theatre to celebrate real heroes from The Second World War – in this case, the code breakers of Bletchley Park. It does this by immersing you in their work and their world.

Tom Black as Gordon Welchman and Gabriel Burns as Keith Batey

The drama happens on three levels. Firstly, the code breaking. Every member of the audience is involved in decrypting fiendish cyphers. These are tough. Genuinely challenging and you aren’t spoon fed at all. It took us a significant portion of the evening to get anywhere, but when we did, it was seriously satisfying.

The second is the interpersonal relationships between the staff at Bletchley. Some aspects of these are more known to a modern audience than others. The story of Alan Turing is well known now, and the balance between the need to treat his situation with modern sensitivity and the need to remain true to the drama is deftly handled. Equally important are the other characters who may not be as well known but who all contributed to winning the war.

Timothy Styles as Alan Turing

The final layer is the internal spy game, with Whitehall spying on Bletchley Park to discover what could constitute a security risk. It was through this mechanism that the story is both moved on and resolved.

While Illicit Secrets: Bletchley is run by a different company than Colab Factory’s previous success For King and Country, its fair to say there’s a reasonable amount of crossover. In fact, Director Christopher Styles previously starred in FKAC. This is a team that love and respect WWII drama, who aren’t mawkish by are equally unafraid of sentimentality.

L-R Beth Jay as Mavis Lever, David Alwyn as Dilly Knox, Amelia Stephenson as Joan Clarke

But don’t worry if you’re not a war buff. I’m certainly not. But the drama stands apart from the period and keeps the interest. The key events they refer to are well known enough that you don’t have to be a historian to appreciate them, though I am sure there were all sorts of lovely details thrown in to please those who’d appreciate them.

Illicit Secrets: Bletchley was fun, thought-provoking and challenging. The codebreaking made my brain hurt in a good way. The ending left me moved. The acting was exemplary. It’s not on for long, but if you get a chance – see it.

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