Reviews, Stage, Theatre

Golem review (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney)

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Over the last few years, Sydney Theatre Company has started a new and very rewarding tradition of supplementing its main program with imported productions of international work (mostly from the UK). It’s a particularly smart idea when a performance company as unique as London’s 1927 is able to be seen by Sydney audiences.
1927 is well-known for its innovative integration of animated video projections with live performance. In their 2014 work Golem, co-founders Suzanne Andrade’s script and Paul Barritt’s handmade, Terry Gilliam-esque animations come to life to tell a contemporary version of the Jewish fable of Golem.
Robert (Shamira Turner) is an under-achieving office worker, who works “backing up the back-up”, writing binary code in pencil. He lives with his strict grandmother and sister Annie, who has her own rebellious punk band, Annie and the Underdogs. Robert is, appropriately, one of the Underdogs.
But his luck begins to change when he purchases one of Phil Sylocate’s amazing Golems — a creature made out of clay which will obey his every order. At first Golem’s presence and assistance gives Robert a confidence boost, but when Golem starts to talk back and question Robert’s choices, things take a surprisingly dark turn.
There are Australian companies working in a somewhat similar visual style, but certainly none that I’ve seen on the scale or with the level of refinement shown by 1927.
Of course, the show never fails to be engaging, moving briskly from scene to scene with Barritt’s playful animations, although it’s still at least 15 minutes longer than it needs to be (and the scenes which could be trimmed or cut altogether are pretty clear). The script goes on several bizarre detours over the play’s 90-minute running time, which ultimately blunt the narrative’s impact.
Thankfully Shamira Turner’s superb performance as Robert is a guiding force — the character slowly and beautifully evolves from geeky office worker to something more insidious with the help of Golem. But all the performances are smartly and lovingly drawn cartoons, with some grounding in truth.
Esme Appleton is brilliant as Robert’s twitchy sister (and narrator of the story) Annie, whose rebellion is under threat from Golem. Rose Robinson turns in a very sympathetic performance as Robert’s romantic interest, the low-achieving Joy (who seems to draw a fair bit of inspiration from Miranda Hart). Lillian Henry and Will Close fill the other roles and perform the score live on stage on drums and keyboard.
The music, composed by Henry, is made up of creepy interludes and patter songs which work to emphasise the fast-paced, frantic world which Robert finds himself in. The songs goes as far as Andrade’s script does to exploring the darker side of the technology and information immediately available to all of us — it’s not hard to see Golem (particularly Golem 2) as a metaphor for mobile devices.
The show has been billed as a 21st century Frankenstein, and, without giving too much away, there’s plenty pulsing away under the surface in the play’s first hour which comes to thrilling and terrifying life in the last few scenes.
Let’s hope STC’s next import, Almeida Theatre’s King Charles III, is just as enchanting.
[box]Golem is at the Roslyn Packer Theatre until March 26[/box]

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