DramaReviewSouth West

Golem – Bristol Old Vic

Creators: 1927
Writer/Director: Suzanne Andrade

Reviewer  G.D.Mills

Golem takes us into the weird and wonderful world of an ‘extraordinary ordinary man’ who inhabits a warped and broken universe. Against an animated backdrop, at once cartoonish and nightmarish, five performers take us on a twisted journey into a world controlled, albeit subtly at first, by a disembodied consciousness hell bent on promoting conspicuous consumption. Robert, an unpopular and socially gauche young man, likewise surrounded by similarly challenged individuals, finds his life transformed when he purchases a Golem, an oversized, clay monster, with an insistently pendulous penis, disposed to do exactly as he’s told.

Golem, at first harmless and friendly, is brought to life through claymation and follows Robert through the garish streets to his place of work, the Binary Back Up office, where five drop-outs are set to work scribbling binary code into perpetuity. Over time, however, Golem seems to absorb information from the world around him, and to develop the gift of persuasion. The controlling powers, whoever or whatever they may be, soon find Golem insufficient for their purposes and so replace him with a smaller, flashier version: thus is Golem 2 brought into being. Golem 2, however, is far more tuned into the world of fortune and fashion and so seeks to improve his ‘owner’ with promotions, girlfriends and sartorial upgrades. Robert, once unambitious and unassuming, grows into a peevish and bullying figure, wrecked by his consumerist ideals.

Philippa Hambly’s Robert is remarkable. She portrays him with a perpetually lopsided mouth, hunched stature and the voice of a tightly repressed 1920s schoolboy.  He’s a hateable, huggable figure. Two of the performers slide between their various roles as well as the drums and keyboard at the side of the stage. Live music is an inextricable and powerful part of the performance. The monotone and monosyllabic binary code song is a comic masterpiece, as is the signature introduction – a shrieked crescendo and diminuendo – to Annie and the Underdogs, a band of which Robert is a member and yet which fails to perform because of its collective stage fright.

1927s singular dystopian vision, as their name might imply, carries with it a retro feel and features pencils, knitting needles and wall mounted telephones in place of the latest technology. It is an odd world to be part of, hermetically sealed off from the world at large, and at times one feels disconcertingly locked in. The performance is unbroken by an interval, despite its 90-minute length, which is perhaps part of a strategy to keep you inside the bubble. The eeriness of the experience is further enhanced by its historical setting: the Theatre Royal is beautifully ornate, around 250 years old and rather creepy and intimate in its design.

If Golem is an ante-consumerist fable it at least lacks preachiness and is sufficiently abstract in its approach to invite a number of interpretations. Golem offers brilliant theatre, but not quite as you know it.   

Runs until 3 June 2017 | Image: Contributed

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