The Drum, Plymouth Theatre Royal
From 10 May 2017 to 13 May 2017
Review by Karen Bussell
The fabulously quirky 1927 is back with a vengeance with Golem, a delightful polemic on modern-day, technology-led living.
Utilising its trademark meticulous fusion of animation, voice-over, live music and actors, Golem is worth at least an hour of anyone’s time—but 90 uninterrupted minutes of hammering home a single message is just a tad overlong.
There is plenty in Paul Barritt’s stylistic design detail (think Metropolis meets Monty Python by way of silent film) and director Suzanne Andrade’s hilarious deadpan script to keep the attention though as the Jewish folk tale of the clay man slave becomes an analogy for hi-tech consumerism.
Voiced with clipped, 1920s elocution by librarian Annie (Genevieve Dunne), this is the tale of nerdy brother Robert who smells faintly of unwashed hair and mathematics.
Living with gran (dad was a tosser and mother is living a pure jazz life in Sussex complete with saxophones and swinging), the old-fashioned '70s household decries TV as being the opiate of the masses while knitting, whittling, Beethoven and anarchy is encouraged. Even Annie’s subversive punk band practising music to ruin Christmas will never escape the damp basement due to nervous embarrassment.
Robert (Philippa Hambly), complete with dried toothpaste in the corners of his mouth, spends his days as a binary back-up pencil pusher and his evenings disappointed by failing gizmos bought from old school friend Sweaty Pits Phil (Nathan Gregory). Until, that is, Phil Sylocate invents a huge lumpen Morph-like automaton—complete with pendulous penis—which will obey its owner’s every command.
Jealousies at work abound as Julian is miffed and the Jennys (Dunne and Felicity Sparks) impressed at how fast the work gets done—leaving all the more time for Robert to court frumpy stationery manager Joy and enjoy the nightly shows at the boozer (with Ruby Tuesday’s belly dance looming large in recollection). And as Golem (voiced by Ben Whitehead) finds time to watch TV so he usurps Gran’s shopping and sandwich-making, spouts advertising tag lines and Daily Mail opinion while urging consumerism and saying yes to progress.
Robert is reshod in yellow man heels, Gran (Rowena Lennon) takes next day delivery of a Knit Quik Matrik machine which can produce woollies while she gets on with… er, high definition living?... while Annie’s band implodes with not even an ironic cowbell to mark its demise.
And so the satirical sideswipe hits its groove with built-in obsolescence, mass production, the Tesco-effect and ever-smaller gadgets. Why settle for a few friends at the pub when you can have 7000 online or a faithful girlfriend with a ticking biological clock when you could be computer-matched with two nubile totties? Who needs employees when technology can out-pace people power and what’s the point of hand-crafted items when factory-made replicas drive down price and push up purchasing opportunities?
A salutary tale indeed. But while the be everyone or a no one message may be trite and somewhat overplayed, the production is exquisite.
The precision timing blending the five actors (with all bar Hambly playing myriad parts and providing the live music) with the projected images is tremendous, worth the ticket price alone, and makes a second viewing attractive given the fine detail and comic detail undoubtedly overlooked first time around.