Writer and director Christopher Styles brings an immersive theatrical experience to the hidden lives of those working at the top secret Bletchley Park eighty years ago. While the groundbreaking work done there was kept largely a secret until the 70s, we of course now know that these codebreakers saved millions of lives and cut short the length of the Second World War. Illicit Signals Bletchley aims to breath life into their secretive stories, planting the audience right there with them, writes Rosie O’Connell.
Upon arrival there is enough time to sign a form, swearing you to secrecy, before you begin work at Bletchley. You are then allocated to your ‘huts’ by name. And then it is off you go to either hut 6, 8 or the Cottage, where the first half of the evening is spent codebreaking intercepted, encrypted messages. While each message is seemingly unimportant, once decoded, using your useful new cypher skills, and put together with the work from the other huts, clues about the Third Reich’s navy start to appear.
All of this code cracking chaos is occurring while an official investigation is pending at the hand of Head of Security, Charles Richards (Sandy Murray), waiting to decode the hut leaders and staff themselves. It is at this point in the evening where we really find out who these cryptologists really were, and almost no one seems to be without suspicion or interest. Mavis and Keith’s budding romance (Beth Jay and Gabriel Burns respectively) that is not exactly encouraged given the secretive nature of their work; Gordon Welchman’s (Tom Black) cool, calm exterior cracking under the pressure; man in charge Dilly Knox’s (David Alwyn) deteriorating health and tea-cosy wearing, and finally Alan Turing’s ‘indecency’, thinly veiled only by Joan Clarke (Edward Cartwright and Amelia Stephenson), all come under scrutiny as the evening progresses.
Following these characters through one of Bletchley Park’s most pivotal moments in such an accurate and detailed set, lends a great deal of authenticity to the production, making the experience even more poignant. As fun as the interactive codebreaking is, as the evening draws to a close it is pertinent that the focus is left on the true stories of the men and women that inhabited Bletchley Park during WW2 and their mainly unsung and unseen, invaluable contributions to the world.
Illicit Signals Bletchley is on at CoLab Factory, 74 Long Lane, Bermondsey, SE1 4AU until 26th January. Times: Wed – Sun 8pm – 10pm. Admission: £30 https://www.designmynight.com/london/whats-on/immersive/illicit-secrets-bletchley