GOLEM

Liverpool Playhouse Theatre

As a regular theatregoer, it’s rare to come across a play that bears little resemblance to anything I’ve seen before. GOLEM is the exception: a myth known to most, but developed here into a uniquely baffling and exceptionally clever play. Merging theatre and animation, 1927’s technology-filled production places Golem firmly in the twenty-first century. The ancient story of a clay man brought to life becomes a dystopian tale that explores the limits of human control over advancing technology. And it works.

 

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The play’s central character is Robert Robertson, a lonely and child-like misfit played by Philippa Hambly. Out of loyalty, he purchases his friend Phil Sylocates’s latest scientific invention; Golem is a creature designed to follow orders. Technology advances, old models get replaced and Golem enters the mass market as a household staple. As Golem becomes a necessity for the ‘fully functioning modern man’, the audience is left wondering who is really in control.

Paul Barritt’s animation makes this a truly unique way of producing theatre. His film is projected onto a large screen on stage behind the actors. Scenes are constantly changing, and still sets are abandoned in favour of moving backgrounds alive with detail. Even if it’s a spider crawling across a portrait, there is always something to focus on. It’s impressive and technically very clever, though I do find myself struggling to focus on the acting at times.

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Whole characters, like Golem, appear only in animation. This means the actors on stage must interact with the screen behind them, as well as with each other. They achieve this with careful precision, never missing an interaction or pointing to the wrong spot. It’s a technique that must take time to master, and so I am impressed to learn they achieved it in only five weeks.

There is much to be said about this play, but I feel the writing deserves special mention. Suzanne Andrade’s script may have a dystopian, eerie ending but it is also very funny. There are references to the Daily Mail, ironic cowbells and a particularly childish moment when Jenny disappears to play with the condom machine. Even Golem is humanised by a love of Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s witty and fast-paced – even if Golem’s incessant rhyming is slightly irritating.

As technology improves and Golem’s features are updated, the characters begin to echo his catchphrase: ‘Move with the times or you’ll be left behind’. It’s a refrain that could also describe this production company. 1927 are certainly at the forefront of exploring technology’s place in the theatre. With the potential for plays that are more accessible and engaging to a wider, younger audience, they are an exciting company to watch.

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