Helen Taylor, Artistic Director of ElevenOne Theatre and actor in Ada & The Engine, tells us more about the show.
As an actor, director, and all-round theatre lover, what makes the medium so compelling for me is its capacity to tell stories which put our common humanity front and centre. Stories of love, death, laughter, striving, and frailty are played out before our eyes. And when these stories are true, it’s all the more engaging.
Lauren Gunderson’s new play Ada and the Engine tells the story of Ada Lovelace, daughter of the ‘mad bad and dangerous’ poet Lord Byron, who abandoned Ada and her mother when Ada was a baby. His legacy to Ada was a fierce intelligence, a yearning for the poetic, and a lot of unpleasant society gossip. Her mother, a mathematician herself, encouraged Ada’s aptitude for mathematics (perhaps hoping to quash any of her father’s poetic leanings) and Ada flourished intellectually.
She began a lifelong friendship with Charles Babbage, whose work on the ‘analytical engine’ – the forerunner of the modern computer – fascinated her. She foresaw that the engine had possibilities beyond mathematical calculation, and she developed the first mathematical algorithm to be carried out by the machine, essentially making Ada the first computer programmer. She’s since become a poster girl for women in science, computing and engineering: Ada Lovelace Day is a yearly event celebrating women’s achievements in those fields.
Ada’s is already a fascinating story, but theatre gives us the freedom to tell it with poetry and heart. Ada married into the nobility and her marriage with Lord Lovelace was successful, but the play explores the depths of her relationship with Babbage, and the intellectual spark between them that could perhaps have been something more. It brings to vivid life a woman who was constrained by the need to marry well and conform to society, but never ceased striving for more. Gunderson says of Ada: “She was a visionary, a rebel, a feminist before feminism, and a woman of passion and skill. She’s also deeply flawed and broken. That makes her a great human to build a story around. “
Bringing all this to life in the rehearsal room has been a pleasure. Gunderson’s writing has a freshness and immediacy to it which makes the characters spring to life off the page. Getting the technical ideas which are essential to the story across to the audience without overwhelming the non-experts is a fine line to walk. Ultimately though, the play is about real people, living and loving and striving for knowledge, lit up by the joy of discovery and the meeting of minds.
Lauren Gunderson is an award winning writer, with a particular focus on the interplay between art and science, who is the most-produced living playwright in the US. Ada Lovelace is one of the most intriguing and inspiring women in modern British history. The combination is irresistible, and ElevenOne Theatre are proud to bring the European premiere of this play to Oxford.