New Play About Gay Enigma Codebreaker Alan Turing Debuts

A new play about Alan Turing recently debuted at New York’s Ensemble Studio Theatre Company’s First Light Festival. Pure, by A. Rey Pamatmat, explores the relationship between Turing’s work and personal life. During World War II, Turing, who is known as the father of modern computing, devised the Turing Bombe, a codebreaking device that was used to decipher the Nazi enigma codes, up to 3,000 messages per day.

TuringstatueHe was also gay, and two years after being convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to undergo hormone therapy, he killed himself with a cyanide-laced apple.

Scientific American reviews the play:

Pure is less about Turing the mathematician, however, than it is about Turing the man. Pamatmat first became enamored with Turing after reading David Bodanis’s book Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity, which suggests that Turing’s passion for science was fueled by his homosexual love for a childhood friend, Chris, who died from tuberculosis when Turing was a teenager. Pure suggests that Turing may have turned his attention to artificial intelligence—a field that explores, at its core, the meaning of life—to celebrate Chris’s life and let it live on in his work. In almost every scene, Turing has a brief conversation with the dead Chris; it later becomes clear that the entire play is set in the hazy moments before Turing’s death, when he is hallucinating or perhaps communicating with Chris’s spirit in the afterlife. Pamatmat, who wrote Pure for the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s annual First Light Festival, paints Turing as a wonderfully brazen character. The mathematician was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was a criminal act in England; in one scene, Turing admits to his fiancé—three days after proposing to her—that he has ‘homosexual tendencies.’ (Pamatmat says this conversation really happened.) Pure suggests that Turing’s insolence dances the fine line between bravery and foolishness; though he was eventually caught and forced to take estrogen supplements to curb his libido, he never doubted himself or his sexual choices. ‘A lot of his greatest work came from his being different,’ Pamatmat says. ‘That’s why he was really able to blaze the trail.'”

Alan Turing Comes Alive [scientific american]

Alan Turing’s Sexuality ‘Forgotten’ at Statue Unveiling [tr]
Alan Turing: The Tributes Keep Coming [tr]
Alan Turing Honored in Snow Bust [tr]
Alan Turing Jack O’Lantern Cracks the Halloween Code [tr]


  1. says

    I just finished David Leavitt’s book on Turing. I enjoyed it, but Leavitt’s portrayal leaves me feeling that Turing was not so much brazen as mildly autistic. He didn’t “get” that people would care about his sexuality. Fascinating character, regardless, and definitely underappreciated until recently. FATHER OF MODERN COMPUTING. You don’t suppose his being gay has anything to do with being marginalized?

  2. peter says

    It is true that Turing died from eating an apple laced with cynadide. Apparently, he always ate an apple each day at the same time. Thus it would have been easy for someone to poison him. As a gay person having important defence secrets at the height of the Cold War, I could easily imagine that there were people who wanted him dead. Since there is no evidence that he deliberately killed himself, I think it behooves us all not to call this a suicide.

  3. Leland Frances says

    There seems to be a growing epidemic of historical revisionist nonsense. Any day now Turing will probably be declared transgender as many of that tribe, particularly, are so busy rewriting history.

    He wasn’t “caught” in the way such a verb choice implies. He reported being robbed by a sometime trick and foolishly admitted to having had sex with the guy [it didn’t help that he was only 19]. And the term “openly gay” is always suspect viewed backwards and simultaneously interpreted as the expression would be today.

    In any case, he was a great man responsible for helping defeat the Third Reich who met a tragic end at the hands of those no less twentieth century Troglodytes.

  4. yoshi says


    Turing was put through a lot of pain due to his homosexuality and there is little evidence to suggest anyone wanted him killed. Suicide is the most plausible explanation for his death.

  5. Jonathan says

    I was actually there for this reading (it was a one-time reading rather than a fully-produced work), and it was really moving. There were only about 25 people there max, so I am *shocked* and delighted to see it gfiven space here. A fascinating story.

  6. nic says

    we should be careful of progecting our perceptions onto people much more intelligent than we.

    this man was so beyond us that his mind was incapable of recognizing moral strictures as they pertained to sexuality. his focus was on truth, not faith. bodily needs were akin to nature, and nothing more.

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