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That Is All You Need to Know
Published on Sunday, 11 August 2013
4

4 stars

Zoo Southside (venue website)
Dance and Physical Theatre
2-10, 12-17, 19-24 Aug, 5:05pm-6:25pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

If you haven’t caught Idle Motion on their previous trips to the Edinburgh Fringe, you’ve been missing out on a striking and stylish treat. The company behind The Vanishing Horizon and The Seagull Effect specialise in intricate, tightly-choreographed plays, filled with on-the-fly scene changes and creative tricks of the light. And here, they apply their trademark style of visual theatre to a perennially popular story: the decipherment of the Nazi Enigma Code by some of Britain’s finest brains, gathered in total secrecy at a manor house called Bletchley Park.

I’d applaud Idle Motion’s techniques for their entertainment value alone, but they’re also remarkably successful in conveying a broad-brush sense of history.  Within the space of an hour, we run through the whole of the Second World War – from “no such undertaking has been received” right up to “Hitler is dead” – and while we obviously only see a few evocative focal points, there’s a genuine feel of a chronicle, of charting the passage of time.

Resisting the inevitable temptation to obsess on Alan Turing, This Is All You Need To Know celebrates a wide cross-section of those who worked at Bletchley Park – from the eggheads like Turing or the lesser-known Gordon Welchman, to the highly-trained women from “Y Section”, listening to and transcribing the German code.  The script and the imagery dovetail perfectly, building into a coherent vision of how Bletchley’s cryptanalysts worked.  And as a mathematician by training, I’m pleased to report that the science is accurate, though it isn’t overplayed.

All this history is told in flashback, often narrated by characters speaking in the much more recent past.  Very oddly though, rather than sticking with a single framing story, Idle Motion offer us two of them.  In the 1970s and early 80s, we see veteran cryptanalyst Welchman writing his book – The Hut Six Story – and debating the rights and wrongs of breaking the code of silence which surrounded his work.  Quite separately from that, in the 1990s, we follow a committee of earnest enthusiasts in their anxious and bumbling efforts to save the now-derelict Bletchley Park.

To be honest, I could have lived without the latter group entirely: there wasn’t enough time to explore their story in any detail, and their comic misadventures were more of a distraction than a relief.  But that’s the only significant glitch in a well-constructed, well-paced, and supremely well-executed play.  It’s easy to underestimate the precision required to deliver such a flawless spectacle, but it’s equally easy to overlook the skill with which they’ve told the story, too.  I’d rate this Idle Motion’s most fully-realised work to date – and for the curious-minded, it’s a true must-see.

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