ANIMATED, ANIMATING, ADMIRABLE, ADORABLE
Let’s be honest. It’s nearly Christmas. You could flinch at the thought of staggering in after a day of guilty shopping to face a show – fresh from the Salzburg Festival, based on Jewish and Czech folklore as satirically used in a 1914 novel by Gustav Meyrink – excoriating a “politically impotent generation” in an industrialized 21c democracy hooked on the “heroin of market-driven popular culture”. Especially when you hear that it will be interpreted through movement, cutting-edge sychronized animation and free verse. You might opt for something jollier.
You’d be wrong. Rush for a ticket. For this is the latest piece of brilliance from 1927, who swept the board with their “The Animals and Children Took To The Streets” a few years back. And it has more real, guffawing laughs than most pantos, a sharper topical bite than any news-quiz, more humane and delightedly intelligent thought behind it than most media. There is immense (if rueful) delight in having our comfy delusions slapped about by a faux-naif mythic cautionary tale. Especially right now when we are all just awakening, blinking vaguely, to the way that information technology and network owners are manipulating us – Facebook, Google, Amazon, Tinder, cookies, a thousand apps and platforms seem to obey but control our very desires.
That is what the story, elegantly told in 90 minutes, is all about. A Golem is a clay creature brought to life and magically made to serve and obey, but which (like Frankenstein’s monster) takes over. Our narrator, squeakily simple, lives with her brother Robert and a knitting old-fashioned Granny. With her equally unambitious, underachieving friends she has a punk band Annie and the Underdogs, which screams out “music to ruin your Christmas”, protesting against everything with Russell-Brandian vagueness but never actually doing gigs because of stage-fright.
Brother Robert is a geek, smelling of “unwashed hair and mathematics” who frequents the workshop of an apparently hopeless inventor called Phil Sylocate. Who, Wozniack-like, suddenly makes something that works: a lifesize clay figure (lumpen, grey, primitive) which obeys and does Robert’s job and housework for him. In a sentence which gets whoops of recognition Robert says “I like my work but I’d like to get it done for me, so I could move into a position of authority more suitable”. very BBC.
The inventor is taken over, selling his hipster soul to big industry, and at home Golem takes charge – he never needs to sleep or eat – and gets new ‘orders’. “So” asks Robert’s sister worriedly “someone has access to Golem, other than you?” Indeed. It happens to our iPhones and Clouds weekly. So with more barks of shamed recognition from the audience Golem upgrades to new powers, changes Robert’s life, puts him in ridiculous fashion clothes in his own image, and undermines his one real relationship (“She’s a frumpy 35 year old who wants to trick you into having babies. A modern man can do better”).
Paul Barritt’s animations are a marvel: cartoonish, beautiful, satirically rich (you’d need to see them twenty times to get all the jokes and references). The five performers interact with them surreally well: sometimes as living talking heads through holes of crazy changing bodies, sometimes walking amongst them. But equal credit to Suzanne Andrade’s droll, dry, savagely subversive, hilariously perceptive text (she also directs) . Lillian Henley’s music is played live: light, ragtimey, melding perfectly with the dark mocking tale.
For Golem wins, of course he does: Grandma herself accepts her new uselessness as “keeping up to date”, trapped inside a high-tech knitting-machine, and the punk band is corrupted into a brand. As is the show itself, with a final triumphant Golem cry of “The arts! We love the arts!”. The clay chap “adores” Benedict Cumberbatch and Helen Mirren. Oh yes, the laugh’s on us. But it’s a very good one.
box office 0207 922 2922 http://www.youngvic.org
to 31 Jan (extended!)