Writer/Director: Suzanne Andrade
Music: Lillian Henley
Designer: Esme Appleton
Animator: Paul Barritt
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Golem is one of those shows where it’s difficult to visualise what you’re about to see from the advance publicity. In this case, however, it’s almost as difficult afterwards to describe what you’ve seen. To start with the obvious, Golem is a brilliant piece of theatre, its design a constant delight. It’s not as disturbing in its dystopian vision as some past reviews have suggested, but possesses a gauche lyricism, a sly surrealist wit and a mischievous sense of fun.
Golem began life at Harrogate as a relatively small-scale work in progress in 2014 but has now enhanced 1927’s reputation by returning as a co-production with the Salzburg Festival, Theatre de la Ville Paris and Young Vic. The current UK tour which finishes at Harrogate is of modest duration, but Golem has toured worldwide, from New York to Beijing. Its success in non-English-speaking countries is readily understandable: the words matter, but the visuals are to goggle at.
The Jewish legend of the golem – the man made of clay – underlies the action. The story begins in the time when there were still libraries – i.e. now – and is initially narrated by Ann, the timidest punk-rocker in history: Annie and the Underdogs, despite her rigorous rehearsing, never appear outside her house because of chronic stage-fright. The central character is her brother Robert, a shy loser who accepts his inferior position at the Binary Back-up Office unquestioningly until he buys a golem.
Golem Mark 1 is the traditional man of clay, large, clumsy, with a pendulous penis and the ability to do everything Robert needs (including his work) instantly. He gets to be a bit of a nuisance when he starts controlling Robert’s decisions and dominating the family’s television viewing (he adores Benedict Cumberbatch), but implodes spectacularly. Mark 2 is smaller, lighter on its feet, more dominant, but, when he’s kicked into touch, Mark 3 is even smaller and much more insidious. At the end Robert is successful, a supervisor no less, but the world has changed.
The visual impact of the production is stunning, an astonishingly inventive blend of animation and claymation interacting with live performance: five actors two of whom also provide a musical background on keyboards and drums. Transformations take place before our very eyes and the use of visual detail is often sweetly playful. For instance, the signs in a French restaurant are mostly misspelt, so it’s a good idea to avoid the fish – it’s poison! Watching Robert’s progress to work, stationary-walking up and down hills, taking care at the main road, passing a changing series of shops, cafes and offices, is a joy in itself.
The whole production is perfectly integrated, with witty designs, including awful “fashionable” costumes, and highly effective music, from Annie’s punk to agonised French chansonnier – with accordion accompaniment, of course. All five actors are excellent, but sadly there was no programme and nobody present from 1927 who could provide a cast list – only an amiably apologetic technical wizard. Maybe the actors won’t mind: at curtain call, they remained anonymous, deadpan, almost blank; there were no “This is me!” smiles, only halting, robotic in-character bows.
Touring internationally | Image: Contributed