Golem (Young Vic)

Animation and live action combine to enthralling effect in 1927’s anti-panto satire

Esme Appleton as Robert in 1927's Golem (Young Vic)
Shamira Turner as Robert in 1927's Golem (Young Vic)
© Bernhard Müller
To describe Golem as five people and a video screen would be like calling Chekhov a hack or Nijinsky a hoofer. This satirical entertainment by Suzanne Andrade for her company 1927, loosely based on Gustav Meyrink’s dark thriller Der Golem and tightly rehearsed to preternatural levels of precision, raises computerised interaction to an art form.

Andrade’s theme may be on the hackneyed side – she’s not the first person to fret about society’s sleepwalk into consumerism – but her treatment of it is startlingly original. It’s Kafka meets Little Shop of Horrors, set in a 1950s England of Camp coffee and Jamboree Bags that doubles as a left-field version of the present day and comes littered with recognition gags.

Lonely Robert languishes in a dead-end pencil-pushing job until the day he buys a mysterious man of clay, a Golem, who will obey his every command. From that moment on his star ascends, but not necessarily his happiness. Before long Robert’s Golem has developed new powers, notably that of speech, which it uses to urge its master to buy in to the blandishments of advertisers and conglomerates.

'Once it’s over, your head spins with a thousand images'

Five deft performers achieve extraordinary levels of detail and never miss a beat in 90 minutes of carefully choreographed interplay with Paul Barritt‘s dazzling animations. (His blank-faced Golem is a beautifully sinister creation – like Morph with dead eyes and a willy.) Rose Robinson and Esme Appleton as the women in Robert’s life present an array of impeccably defined characters, while Lillian Henley supplies a rich complementary score that ranges from Satiesque doodles to super-naff punk band Annie and the Underdogs, and she and fellow-actor Will Close nip away from the action every few minutes to play it live on keyboard and drums.

At the heart of it all is Shamira Turner as Robert, head tilted and hands stiffened in a stylised picture of social awkwardness, her clipped consonants and Brief Encounter vowels at one with Barritt’s surreal images of bygone emporiums and chintz sitting rooms. Whatever befalls the wretched Robert the wistful monotony of Turner’s voice never falters. She is magnificent.

It’s undeniable that lovers of theatrical oddity will feel they’ve been this way before. Golem follows in the proud tradition of Forkbeard Fantasy and Shockheaded Peter, and there’s more than a whiff of Robert Lepage about it too; but it takes second place to none of them. Once it’s over, your head spins with a thousand images. Every so often one pops up to the surface and you chuckle at the memory – then you look around at London’s sea of advertising and realise, perhaps for the first time, how sinister it all is. 1927 would call that job done.

Golem's run at the Young Vic has been extended until 31 January 2015.