The goings-on at the top secret codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park seems to be quite an inspiration for musicals at the moment.
With Alan Turing: A Musical Biography playing at the King’s Head next month and this show, Dots and Dashes: A Bletchley Park Musical by ChopLogic Productions, we have the big stories covered.
In Dots and Dashes, which comes to London from the Edinburgh Fringe, the women of Bletchley Park are centre stage, clever mathematicians, linguists, and navigators who were selected to serve their country.
Communicated through music and a snappy, detailed script, this show allows the atmosphere in this hidden area of huts in wartime to be fully explored. The songs both suggest the period and a sense of scale.
What I found particularly interesting was the use of movement during the songs, especially to show the monotony of the job, which we often think of as exciting.
The six actors – Amber May-Hutton, Charlotte Fenning, Katie Damer, Lisa Hazel White, Martha Morris and Tabitha Radcliffe – fit comfortably into the roles of 1940s bluestockings.
Although their work is important, and one mistake could be catastrophic, these are still young women who gossip, giggle, and occasionally grumble.
What is less successful, dramatically, are the attempts to build personal stories outside of the work. A pregnancy out of wedlock, a suggested same-sex attraction. These are expected twists which are left unresolved.
There are many strong stories to be found in the women of Bletchley Park, and there are some moments here which could be further developed if we knew the outside lives of these women.
I feel this production is just too short to really succeed, and needs to decide whether it is a drama or a musical drama. I can see some potential in more songs from Fenning and Damer: perhaps making it sung-through?
What does come across strongly is an affinity towards women in wartime, whether carers or codebreakers, scientists, or secretaries. To get the job right can save a loved one or a stranger, even if they can never talk about it outside of the hut’s four walls.
Video projections work well and could be utilised more, should Dots and Dashes be extended further in the future. An ambitious debut production.
Dots and Dashes: A Bletchley Park Musical is available on demand until 28 Jan – ticket link https://space.org.uk/event/dots-and-dashes-a-bletchley-park-musical-livestream/.