Forget Orwell, 1927's Golem imagines a Steve Jobs-inspired dystopia
PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:06 15 April 2015
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For their West End debut, the Hackney theatre company portray a surreal, multimedia world where technology is taking over, says Alex Bellotti.
Suzanne Andrade is aware of the “dreadful cliché of multimedia theatre”, where the novelty of technology overshadows the story itself. Over the last decade however, her theatre company 1927 has made a compelling case for the defence, using live music, film and animation to complement traditional acting with tremendous success.
The Hackney company’s latest production, Golem, is a perfect example of their philosophy. Following a spell at the Young Vic which left critics floored by its originality, this modern day parable of technology’s control upon mankind is now running at Trafalgar Studios until May 22.
For Andrade, the transfer is a new but exciting challenge. While 1927’s previous show, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, enjoyed a three season run at the National Theatre, Golem marks their West End debut and an opportunity to bring their inclusive ethos to the masses.
“We don’t want it to be elitist in any way,” says Andrade. “We’d like people who’ve never been to the theatre or people who see more traditional things or people that normally go to films or gigs or comedy events to come to a 1927 show and absolutely love it.”
Audiences at the Young Vic certainly seemed to, particularly praising Golem’s breathtaking aesthetic “mish-mash of B movie-meets-silent film-meets-graphic novel”. Andrade’s script – which she directs alongside the film, animation and design of Paul Barritt – tells the story of Robert Robertson, a man in an unremarkable data-crunching office job who finds his fortunes upturned after buying a Golem from a mysterious salesman.
A figure of mythical Jewish folklore – which Andrade based upon Gustav Meyrink’s 1921 novel, The Golem – the creature initially works as Robertson’s slave, but begins to turn the tables as it becomes mass marketed and constantly upgraded.
“The more we researched that original myth, the more we got onto artificial intelligence and our relationship with technology, which has become a very strong through line of the show.
“As people are becoming increasingly dependent on our phones, we started exploring the idea of control and imagining what if you’ve got this piece of technology that you think you’re entirely in control of, but then something infiltrates that control and starts telling you what to do, while making you feel at all times like you’re still in control?”
Many critics have picked up on the Golem’s parallels with smartphone technology and it’s an idea Andrade kept in mind. “For some time people have spoken about this kind of Orwellian future; what we wanted to play around with was not perhaps the Orwellian future but the slightly more Steve Jobs-inspired future. I mean if you go to [Apple’s] Genius Bar, it’s freaky, it’s like being in the Church of Scientology.”
With companies such as Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema finding huge audiences by breaking down traditional barriers in theatre, there is increasing evidence to suggest their influence is entering the West End.
While this may feel like the next step in theatre’s evolution, Andrade argues that it’s equally a continuation of its past.
“It’s funny because [multimedia theatre] is an old idea. Bertolt Brecht was doing it; he’d use projections to have the title of scenes, the Fresnel effect where you’re slightly alienated in the distance because there’s this title piece above it. In some ways it’s an old idea that people have always used, it could just be that people are getting better at it – the technology is certainly much more accessible and easier to work into a live context than it’s ever been.
“And also there are lots of shows that are looking at the way we live and how connected we are to screens and images and film and using that and thinking, ‘Well how can we use this to comment on it?’”
1927’s Golem runs at Trafalgar Studios until May 22. Visit trafalgar-studios.co.uk