The Legendary Golem - at the New End Theatre

It's only a few short, ponderous, heavy-booted steps from the mediaeval legend of the Golem to Mary Shelley's popular gothic chiller, Frankenstein. Both tales feature a servile Ÿbermensch, who has been conjured up by a Promethean creator. And in each version the titan discovers its emotional shortcomings, goes berserk and is destroyed.

Which makes you wonder why writer/lyricist Sylvia Freedman and composer Cathy Shostak didn't just go the whole hog and write a musical about a monster with neck bolts, instead of opting for their braver, though surely less commercial retelling, entitled The Legendary Golem.

Freedman and Shostak have returned to the source of the myth, a synagogue in the Prague ghetto. Their tale starts during 1989's Velvet Revolution, where militant student Ben (James Gillan) is being offered sanctuary from the communists by tour guide Dvora (Maria Kesselman). Freedman employs a flashback to draw a parallel with events in the same synagogue four hundred years earlier, when Ben and Dvora were victims of a pogrom.

In a desperate attempt to protect his people from an anti-Semitic overlord, Rabbi Judah Loew(David Burt), dabbles in a spot of alchemy to create the bald-headed Golem (Velibor Topic) from the black clay of a riverbank. The steely figure tracks down a missing Jewish girl, performs menial tasks for his suspicious wife, Pearl (the excellent Gaye Brown) and brings much needed muscle to the strife-torn ghetto.

The fundamental difference between this tale and Frankenstein, however, is that once the Golem becomes a liability and Loew realises the beast is a manifestation of his malign alter-ego, he manages to successfully annihilate it.

The Legendary Golem is pretty heavy stuff sometimes, so you're grateful that director Brennan Street occasionally extricates some comedy from his mainly talented cast, notably in the sub-plot. Like Fiddler on the Roof, this is about how parents uphold tradition, while their offspring seek to compromise it: although Dvora has been betrothed to the nebbish Moyse (Paul Sugars) she prefers the company of the poorer, more sensitive Ben.

Shostak and Freedman have penned an enjoyable sheaf of songs, and I especially enjoyed those with a distinctly Jewish flavour about them: 'Sabbath Evening', which sees the whole community laud the high point of their week; 'Lemon Tea', Pearl's gently comic ode to the brew's restorative qualities; and 'Love Turns the World' a schmaltzy, tenderly-sung ballad.

Anyone leafing through the programme notes will learn that the word Golem means 'body without soul' in Hebrew. While it's certainly true that this version of the Golem story won't be everyone's cup of tea, no one would ever accuse it of lacking soul.

Richard Forrest