Michael Sabbaton’s one man stage play The Turk at York Theatre Royal Studio on Thursday March 21 is a compelling tale of mystery, sentience and loss inspired by an 18th century ‘thinking machine’.
1838. A cabin aboard ‘The Otis’. Night. Surrounded by well-travelled packing crates and empty wine bottles, a drunken and dying Johann Nepomuk Maelzel revisits scenes from his life, losses and adventures with the amazing, chess playing automaton known as The Turk.
Fuelled with alcohol and yellow fevered madness, Maelzel and The Turk explore the sacrifice of the showman, the promise of the engineer and the passion of the dreamer against a philosophical backdrop of life, love, cognition and existence.
In 1770 an incredible ‘thinking machine’ was presented to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria that was to influence and bamboozle the world for over 80 years. A life-sized automaton in the fashionable garb of a ‘mysterious’ Turk gazed down onto two opposing armies of chess men. A key was inserted, the mechanism was wound and in a whirring of cogs The Turk came to life, raising its head and making its move.
With historical opponents from Napoleon to Beethoven, Barnum to Babbage, Benjamin Franklin to Edgar Allan Poe, The Turk’s enigmatic legacy of technology and chess paved the way for the future of computing, automation, artificial intelligence and even magic.
This is the backdrop to Michael Sabbaton’s latest work of theatrical meta-fiction drawing on this true to life tail of a mechanical marvel that was not all that it at first appeared. Through loss, philosophy, humour and song this multi-framed new work explores being on the brink of death.
Sabbatical said “The Turk’s story is one of great intrigue that influenced engineers, scientists and poets alike in the developing fields of automation and later in artificial intelligence. In the show, I present this as a haunting, philosophical adventure of purpose, being and loss”.