Tilly relishes the Turing challenge

Breaking The Code is at The Royal Theatre, Northampton, from tonight until Saturday, November 29. Call the box office on 01604 624811.

ACTRESS Tilly Tremayne admits there are few meaty roles for older women in the theatre.

So she jumped at the chance to play Sara Turing in Breaking The Code, the latest production at The Royal Theatre in Northampton.

The play tells the story of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who broke the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park and is also hailed as the father of modern computers following the ground-breaking work he did at Manchester University in the post-war years.

The complex tale also shows how Turing was ostracised because of his homosexuality.

Tilly plays Turing's mother in Hugh Whitemore's play, which opens tonight. During the weeks of rehearsals she has grown to admire her as a character. "She was a remarkable woman and wrote a biography about him," she said.

"She was someone very bright who never got the chance to go to university and was cross about it. She was also a diplomatic wife in India.

"It is very apparent from the biography that she loved her children in a very supportive way and knew she had a prodigy on her hands from the word go.

"Alan talked early and she took him out of school once because she thought he wasn't being educated properly. Then she taught him at home before he went to prep school."

Sara Turing refused to accept that her son had committed suicide and preferred to believe his death was the result of a home chemistry experiment that had gone wrong.

"Any mother would want to look for a reason why their child didn't top themselves," said Tilly, who is 53. "He was always doing experiments at home and he was famous for not washing his hands."

Tilly has already worked with Philip Franks, who plays her son in Breaking The Code, in an episode of the ITV Sunday night drama, Heartbeat.

"We got on terribly well and working with him again was an attraction," she said.

One of the most emotional scenes in the play is between Tilly and Philip when Turing tells his mother he is gay. "We always cry a lot in that scene, it's very moving," said Tilly. "The budget for tissues at The Royal Theatre will definitely be going up."

Tilly has been married to actor Trevor Peacock, who plays Jim Trott in BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley, for 25 years. The couple met when she auditioned for a musical he had written.

Ironically Tilly sang the song, 'What are you doing for the rest of your life' and got the job and the man.

Her interest in acting had started many years before, although her father always hoped she would follow a career in the Foreign Office rather than on the stage. "I went to see The Royal Hunt Of The Sun at Chichester with Robert Stephens when I was 14 and thought 'I want to do that'."

She never looked back after joining the New Midland Theatre Company. "We did fortnightly rep, which was extremely hard work but invaluable training," said Tilly.

Tilly's first television role saw her playing a maid in Poldark when she was in her early 20s and she has also been in Coronation Street, London's Burning and The Bill.

This is not her first visit to The Royal Theatre as she played Honey in a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf almost two decades ago. Following in her acting footsteps, her son Harry appeared in A School For Scandal there.