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The Theatreguide.London Review

Golem
Trafalgar Studios Spring 2015

This clever piece of theatrical invention by the company called 1927 was a hit at the Young Vic a few months back and now transfers for a West End run. It's a freewheeling satire on contemporary culture in general, and on our growing slavery to computerisation and multinational corporations in particular. 

An amiable nerd buys himself a prototype golem, a manufactured clay-man slave to follow him around and do his drudge work for him. But soon the manufacturer is churning golems out by the millions and quietly upgrading them so they can talk and recommend that their masters buy the company's other products. 

An upgrade to Golem Mark 2 is a little leprechaun-type creature who not only promotes consumerism but persuades changes in life style and political opinion. And Mark 3 is even more sinister. 

So, along with the central warning against the ease with which we can lose our individuality in a culture that imposes values on us, there are passing swipes at the kinds of conglomerate corporations that put their brand on everything and those that get us dependent on their products only to force frequent upgrades (You can plug in the brand names yourself). And there is even more in-passing satire of targets ranging from the counterculture to computer dating. 

A lot of this is clever, if not especially new, but there wouldn't be enough here to hold your attention for ninety minutes were it not for the company's trademark inventive staging. 

Writer-director Suzanne Andrade and animation and film designer Paul Barritt put the live action in front of a large screen of animated backgrounds and additional characters such as the golem, and much of the fun of the evening comes from the interaction between the two worlds. 

So, for example, an actor walking in place against a moving background appears to be travelling, while the live man and cartoon golem can stand or walk side-by-side. 

This is not especially new as a device – it dates back to the combination of human and animated action in the earliest silent films, and you can see actors performing in front of animated backgrounds and characters in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory today. 

But, especially for those not too familiar with it, it's fun to watch, and 1927 add some little clever twists, like opening or closing sequences with iris-out and iris-in effects that call our attention to specific points, and a lot of throwaway sight gags in the animations, like the names of shops the hero passes on his in-place walks. 

Costumed and characterised as near-cartoons themselves, the live performers have little opportunity to create much reality or depth, though actress Shamira Turner believably converts herself into the attractively nerdy hero. 

At its best, Golem may score critical and satiric points you haven't encountered before, using a theatrical technique that is new and exciting. At worst, its messages and its medium, while neither are particularly fresh, are both presented inventively enough to be satisfyingly entertaining.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Golem - Trafalgar Studios 2015 

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