1927's Golem: The Young Vic Theatre
Having read a really interesting 4 page article about Golem in the Telegraph, I was enthused to see this show and quickly booked tickets for early January. It was already quite busy so had to settle for front row seats; not my first choice but would certainly provide a good view of costume and set details. I was particularly interested in the use of projection and animation combined with live action; a key aspect of 1927's work. I was further intrigued how an animated Golem would interact with the live actors and its role as a kind of puppet, linking well to my recent research practise.
The piece was highly stylised visually and dramatically. It was instantly reminiscent of a show I saw at the Mimetic festival 'The boy who kicked pigs' in fact so much so I could have easily assumed it was the same company (Blog: Review). It made me wonder if perhaps the companies were linked, had trained together or if this was a fashion inspired by popular films such as Sweeny Todd which uses dark and quirky characters, stylised spoken delivery and song to convey a dark tale. Similarly the design was extreme, slightly 'Tim Burton' with a quirky, gothic, fantasy style. The characters all wore heavy make-up, wacky hair and striking clothes. Many of the costumes seemed to link to futurist styles with bold colours and lines, and this became more extreme as the story unfolded.
The set was a large cinema sized backdrop, a screen to project the various settings including a moving street, house interior, shop, office and pub. At times additional small flats were added to create depth, in particular the office setting where each employee had a chair and wall, like a work booth. The images were always highly detailed and animated, it was a visual feast, which was fantastic but also sometimes hard to take it all in. To the sides of the main screen were two live musicians: a drummer to stage right and a pianist to stage left. They played throughout somewhat like the live soundtrack to an early movie, adding a real sense of the dramatic and a speedy, rhythmic pace. At times they also joined the cast as performers and seamlessly moved between the two areas. This 'liveness' against a very preprogrammed show was an interesting artistic decision and helped maintain this show as live theatre, rather than film. It added pace and presence and the style of the music was intense like broken, heavy, gypsy folk.
With the exception of the lead guy, all the other cast members played an array of characters, interchanging between them effortlessly. Their style of delivery was often in rhyme and always with a certain rhythmic quality which occasionally crossed over into song. This style fitted with the many references to advertising but also came across as lighthearted and quirky; a powerful way to deliver a story with such dark undertones. The characters were a mix of geeks, the obscure of society, the forgotten or the sidelined. Their wealth of character and comic potential in their many quirks added to the feast of sounds and sights before us.
The projection mapping and animation was executed extremely well. The use of live music and actors made the piece feel more live than recorded even though it must have been rehearsed to perfection to time every movement and action with the backdrop. There was considerable dialogue and interaction between the set and the actors, the sharpening of a pencil in an animated machine, the moving shops and characters on the street and even the interaction between Gran and her husbands portrait which comically changed slightly with the addition of a spider or wink. One of the key aspects was the placing of actors against the backdrop. They were always shadowed with a light glow so they looked in front of the setting not part of it. There were of course exceptions where the performers were actively projected onto, giving them pattern to their costume for example but on the whole this was a clever technique which effectively linked the two aspects.
The story itself followed a young man and his relationship with his family, friends, work colleagues and general environment. With the advent of his bought 'Golem' and later upgrades we see how he is being changed, manipulated and altered by his increasing dependance on the Golem. We see how his relationships change, some adapt others fade and die. The Golem is a metaphor for technology in particular computers and mobile phones. It was highly powerful to witness the changes happening before us and although as an audience we often laugh or are outraged by his behaviour, much of what happens is all too familiarly true. The Golem influences everything, it breaks down real human relationships and makes us worry about self image, advertising and ambition. The increasing pace of the show mirrors that of an increasing life pace with the Golem getting faster, encouraging us on the one hand to keep up but also doing so much for us, making us feel utterly dependant.
As the piece came to a close I was left quite shocked and silent. There was so much in this show to take in, to see, to hear, to translate, to understand. It was enjoyable and funny to witness but after it left a darkness, as we begin to compare the story increasingly with real life. It makes us question modern society 'are we really that dependant, that superficial, that manipulated' sadly possibly yes. So the true genius of this show is not the clever technology rather the message it makes us see and think about. Visually the Golem becomes fast and annoying but that is what is intended. We desperately want a happy ending, where the boy gets the girl and the family reunite but no release is given we are left with only destruction.
This was a powerful piece of theatre which cleverly combines an array of theatre tools both analogue and digital. The Golem is a clever metaphor. The use of a simple looking character pulls us in with a false sense of security, before revealing its much darker intentions. This character could not have been easily played by an actor, with its morphing, changing and multiplying, so the use of animation was a clever and relevant one. With so much going on, this is a show I would like to see again, to look closer at the details, wider at the settings and deeper into the meaning, symbols and metaphors presented.
Photo: Will Sanders