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Golem

Suzanne Andrade
1927 / Young Vic
Trafalgar Studios 1

Will Close as Phil Sylocate Credit: Bernhard Mueller
Shamira Turner as Robert Credit: Bernhard Mueller
Rose Robinson as Gran Credit: Bernhard Mueller

Now in the West End, after a successful run at the Young Vic during the winter, Golem is a quirky graphic novel that’s been given real-life animation.

Though you probably won’t recognize yourself in its images, it is a play about you. I know that for certain because I know where you are reading this and because—even on our web site—you can’t avoid getting messages you didn’t actually order.

Golem crops up in the Bible as a word for the unfinished Adam and then as a figure in Jewish folklore: a being made like Adam from mud. The most famous is the Golem of Prague, created in the late sixteenth century to protect the Jews in the ghetto. The 1927 company and writer/director Suzanne Andrade have given that legend a very real contemporary telling. No longer just legend, we now have real-life robots and increasingly sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence.

So what happens when entrepreneur inventor Phil Sylocate (Will Close) develops a new Golem? This one is not all shiny metal and plastic like the latest to emerge from a Japanese lab: it is modelled from traditional mud, complete with a dangling dong.

Wage slave Robert (Shamira Turner), who’s a bit nerdy, though he plays in his librarian sister Annie’s Anarchist punk band, gets one. It is soon doing his job in some minor computing capacity in a fraction of the time it takes colleagues Julian (Close) and Jenny (Charlotte Dubery) and (another) Jenny (Lillian Henley) and at home it takes over the housework while Robert is sleeping.

The clay man (voiced by Ben Whitehead, appropriately not live) is there to be commanded and ready to suggest all needs and plan their purchase. Life is easy, except for Gran (Rose Robinson) who’s kept awake by Golem watching television when he’s finished chores. Robert even gets promotion. When Golem tells him what to do, its welcome.

Then Golem seems to break down. That’s because a newer, smarter version is now ready that can do even more. Technology tries to make things faster, easier, “better”—but are they? “Let Golem make those difficult decisions for you” becomes the mantra. Technology takes control for you. For you? Do you control it and if not you who does?

The message is hardly a new one but it is still needed as the cookies pile up on your computer and promotions pop up for shows, for restaurants, for causes to support, petitions to sign and messages pile up on Facebook. But it is not the message that makes 1927’s Golem special; it’s the way in which they deliver it.

These five performers, playing many more roles than named above (as well as taking over drums and keyboard), become a living part of Paul Barritt’s continuous animated drawings. They fit into the projected image with precise placing and timing using drawn doors that they open, set strategically in an aperture or taking up position in front of the screen. Not only is it technically accomplished but they achieve a performance style that matches.

It is appropriate that someting about technology is so technically perfect but ninety minutes without an interval is a long time to hold the attention with basically one gimmick, however good the execution, and there are times when one wishes for more focussed comment, but, as we gear up for an election, it is worth asking who is actually in charge, who controls us?

Reviewer: Howard Loxton