Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Golem

Suzanne Andrade (writer/director), Paul Barritt (film, animation, design)
1927
HOME
07 October 2015 to 17 October 2015

London-based 1927’s first Manchester visit is part of a huge European tour (the piece was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival, Theatre de la Ville, Paris, and London’s Young Vic) that underlines the sort of connections HOME is plugging in to.

The company specialise in visual effects, here combining claymation figures and stylish cartoon, mostly urban, backgrounds on film with live action and original music, and without HOME we most probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see for ourselves what all the five-star reviews are about.

Golem re-works (writer and director company co-founder Suzanne Andrade) the folk myth of a clay man who comes to life and turns it into a cautionary tale about our increasingly worrying relationship with technology.

Geeky Robert buys the latest must-have gadget, a Golem, who will do Robert’s bidding, fulfil his every wish. “You can wake your Golem and put him to sleep at the end of the day,” Robert is informed. “What you use him for in between is up to you. You are in control.” But not for long…

Conjured up in larger than human size via stop-motion film, integrated with the actors, the appealingly clumpy Golem develops a mind of his own, manipulating Robert into purchases he didn’t know he wanted and opinions he didn’t know he held.

But that is just the beginning, because obsolescence is a natural part of this brave new world, and Golem II soon makes an appearance, at which point the piece goes on to post warnings about trends ranging from next-day delivery consumer satisfaction to speed dating and just about everything else in between.

The technology - the projections mostly, and their integration with the live action - is highly impressive. Forkbeard Fantasy, onetime regular visitors to the late lamented Green Room (just down the road from HOME, as it happens) were doing not totally dissimilar things 20 years or more ago, and though 1927’s technology is more precise, the appeal of the evening depends rather too heavily on it, as the tale it tells becomes repetitive and over-extended, with too much infantile humour and messages that prove very far from original.

The first 15 minutes or so, before Golem appears, are background padding about Robert and his family and later, after Golem I, the only character around with any real appeal, drops out, the final third of the show runs out of charm and ideas. An hour would have been about perfect for what 1927 have to show and tell: 90 minutes is 30 too long.

So, not a five from me. If we did give stars, which we don’t, more like a three-and-a-half.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme

Comments

Comment by David Chadderton

I think Alan's got it pretty much spot on here. Technically, it's extremely impressive, especially how the projections, live action and music are all timed and placed perfectly.

The visual style of things that look a little out-of-date is quite fashionable now—even on greetings cards—but does fit. The projected scenery we have seen before, but it is done exceptionally well.

What is lacking is the script. It feels like we're being fed messages about reliance on gadgets and consumerism, but it's all a bit thin, as is the story which is padded out and at times repetitive, although there are some good verbal and visual gags.

Comment by David Cunningham

Agree that Golem could be trimmed but not that the opening sequence is padded or that the play is about consumerism. Another possibility is that it is about compliance. Golem may be examining what the late George Melly described as ‘revolution into style’. The process by which genres that  initially challenge the status quo are embraced by it and turned into something bland and acceptable.  Think that we need to see the individual traits of the characters so we can appreciate the impact of the changes.  At the conclusion the characters in Golem pretty much continue as they have in the past but with their quirky traits smoothed out. It is a bleak point of view but easily absorbed due to the colourful and outwardly cheerful presentation.   

 

Comment by Robert Beale

Are we being a bit too deep here? It's a stimulating and funny show and 90 minutes isn't that long anyway. I was pretty wowed by the technical stuff, and that actually includes the music, which may not be the most original ever but served its functional purpose - and I loved the sad French song of Monsieur (or rather Monseur) Les Miserable (worthy of Charles Aznavoice, as Morecambe and Wise used to call him). I take it the piece is a morality play, about how digital devices take over our lives and turn us into programmed cash-spenders and hence conformists. Perhaps there's more truth in that than we like to own up to.

Comment by Carmel Thomason

The reaction of the panel is mixed on this one and I can kind of see why, because anyone with a smartphone - i.e. most of the audience - must leave feeling a little bit uneasy. Technically it is brilliant, the performances are engaging and, as you can see from the photos, it looks amazing (live it looks even better). In parts it is also very funny, but overall the message is bleak and depressing. The power of suggestion we are all exposed to through advertising, is revealed to be more powerful than we would like to admit. As Bob says, there's a truth here that leaves a somewhat sour taste, because you leave wanting to be that little bit less connected to your digital devices, but deep down you know you won't be.