With Golem, theatre company 1927 have constructed an entire world, one which propels those watching into a fast-paced and ever expanding universe of projections, images and colour. Blending live action with animation, the aesthetic of the play makes it unmistakable from the start that we are in for a remarkable and almost unparalleled ride.
The narrative follows Robert Robertson through his humdrum and painfully ordinary existence, including his lacklustre job and even more lacklustre enthusiasm for life. Until, that is, he makes an impulse buy: a Golem, designed to serve his every need.
Written and directed by Suzanne Andrade, the production is flawless, perfectly synchronised and witty. The characters are distinctive and stylised, adding another layer of interest alongside the unsettling Terry Gilliam-esque projections. The performances are dynamic and Paul Barritt’s animation and film work is, simply put, staggering. This is art that is unique, detailed and atmospheric.
Why then – if it’s that good – did I not actually enjoy it?
Golem is, in essence, a warning against consumerism. It tells us that our phones and iPads have developed into a dictatorship, one that we will escalate until it overtakes us all. Were it not for the ever more demanding, power-hungry and image conscious upgrades of the Golem, Robert would have remained a good person. Yet, through his addiction to his “device” he becomes selfish, vain and unsympathetic.
While this is a parable many, including myself, can relate to, the argument presented here is largely one-dimensional. The basic claim is that our investment in technology has turned us into unlikeable people, but without any exploration into the psychology underpinning this new technological era. Instead, we get a relatively generic argument. In Robert’s case, the Golem encourages him to leave his dowdy 35-year-old girlfriend in favour of seeking out more desirable women, in a nod to our online dating culture. Surely though, the connection between technology and behaviour is more complex than this? Smart phones certainly facilitate choices, but whether the devises themselves can be solely blamed for an individual’s decisions is questionable – otherwise wouldn’t we all just be leaving our partners at the drop of a swipe right or swipe left?
A far more intriguing moment in the play occurs when Golem (version 1) begins to voice anti-immigration slurs after watching the news and reading the newspapers. In response, Annie (Robert’s sister and the lead in their punk band) observes that they need to stop letting him read The Daily Mail. Unable to think for himself, Golem absorbs the tabloids as facts and allows them to feed into his bank of “knowledge”. Herein lies a more painful truth about modern life, in particular the accessibility of information, including online. It’s a shame the production didn’t choose to expand more on this point, as it felt like the more pertinent part of its commentary.
The verdict? Think before you buy a Golem.
Golem was on at the Bristol Old Vic. Click here for more details.