Saturday 24th June 2017 at Harrogate Theatre
Golem is likely like nothing you’ll have ever seen before.
In fact, watching anything from the theatre company 1927 is likely like nothing you’ll have ever seen before. I discovered them back in 2013 and they instantly worked their way into my mental list of favourite theatre companies. Founded by Suzanne Andrade and Esme Appleton, 1927 astoundingly blend live action with animation and they do so completely seamlessly; the actors merge themselves with animated worlds and characters in what is ultimately an education in expert precision. Andrade is director and writer of Golem while design, film and animation are the work of Paul Barritt. The company tends to explore social flaws and injustices through satire; the last show I saw of their’s, The Animals and Children Took To The Streets, explored class, poverty and the growing, concerning trend of people drugging over-active children. Golem explores the relationship between technology and humanity. It’s near impossible to describe the experience and aesthetic to those who have never seen anything like this but suffice to say, it’s one of the most enthralling pieces of visually rich theatre you’ll see on a stage.
Golem is a cleverly woven tale which begins and ends with talk of mankind wanting for nothing and craving the new – it pokes fun while also providing a damning social commentary in illustrating the flaws of the modern (wo)man. It follows the life of full time geekazoid Robert, who graduates from toying with inferior automatons to purchasing Golem; a clay creature who gradually transforms from a mindless clay man into an intelligent being…with a serious impact on Robert’s whole way of life. Robert’s sister, Annie, tells the alarming tale of her brother’s transformation and the production uses pre-recorded narrative beautifully to frame the piece as a surreal sepia snapshot of tragedy and warning. Like our hunger for the new, a broken Golem is only ever replaced with upgrades, he cannot be destroyed, and each ‘upgrade’ brings fresh corruption to daily life, spewing advertising jargon to manipulate Robert’s whole family. The script is intelligent and witty with its pacy monologue songs, observational style and sardonic exchanges between the characters. There are also echoes of Orwell’s Animal Farm in the way Andrade has crafted the script; Golem repeats assurances that Robert eats up like poor Benjamin while all the while Golem grows in power and influence. Eventually, the whole of mankind is allegedly ‘freed’ of the burden of autonomy. The Robert at the end of the story is a long way off the Robert from the beginning – almost unrecognisable but for what can only be described as his utterly perfect nerd voice; strained, nasal and stumbling.
By far the most impressive and memorable thing about this production is the skill of the performers in their interaction with what is ultimately a simple white screen with various flaps acting as doors and windows – all else is animation and claymation, leaving the actors wholly responsible for convincing the audience that they have in fact been plucked from reality and dropped down a techno rabbit hole into a warped comic. I’d love to comment on individual performances but with no programme or current cast list to be found, I can only say that this show features only the crème de l crème – with so much riding on the precision of the performances, it’s no surprise that the audience is met with such casting.
The whole production is underscored by Lillian Henley’s plucky, often unnerving and always atmospheric music. Two of the performers hop onto a keyboard and drum kit whenever they are released from playing characters and other sound is pre- recorded, with no part of this piece coming without musical accompaniment. This constant immersive music and ever changing animation on the screens combine to envelop a modern audience entirely in this visually mesmerising and bizarrely intriguing world. Watching the piece in one sitting with no interval does at times feel exhausting; particularly as there is stylistic repetition of scenes and environments (a little like Groundhog Day in watching the gradually transforming Robert going to work each day with a somewhat comically manipulative Golem in tow). It can feel overwhelming but it’s easy to imagine that that is the intent. Consumerism is an intense, constant and suffocating presence in the modern world and for this company to somehow capture that presence and reproduce it as an atmosphere is pure theatrical genius
Regardless of tastes, a 1927 production is a must-see for all theatre lovers. It’s so unique and achieved with such intelligence, wit and precision that it really is most likely like nothing you’ll have ever seen before. While I preferred the story of their last show, The Animals and Children Took To The Streets, I was just as enamoured of their style as I watched Golem. I recommend this company and any show they tour whole heartedly; to watch their craft in any manifestation is a deliciously captivating theatrical treat not to be missed. You can find the latest information about their productions here.