This 90-minute stage production at the Young Vic, coming to a close this weekend, has bowled over just about everyone who has seen it, including those like me who are discovering 1927's work for the first time.
Suzanne Andrade (writer and director) teamed up with Paul Barritt (animator and illustrator) in 2005 and their company is best know for The Animals and Children Took To The Streets, which has toured worldwide and been performed three times over at the National Theatre.
Golem is visually stunning from start to finish, blending ultra-precision acting, music, film, mime and movement; it seems to channel the Futurist/Constructivist work of the Soviet avant-garde, the animated film work of William Kentridge, the early operatic work of Shostakovich, the Pop Art of Blake and Hamilton, and half a dozen other cultural influences, from Huxley to Orwell.
The Golem, a clay homunculus who comes to life and obeys all our orders, regenerates itself like an Apple product into Golem 2 and Golem 3, becoming ever more advanced until it effectively starts giving the orders. It turns an illusory freedom into slavery, a story that has been told many times before in satires on utopian progress.
But despite the intensity of the visual impact and the razor-sharp performances of the five cast members, I think the writing lacks a sharp satirical edge. The company's fondness for retro style and imagery suggests it finds it easier to target the past than the present. While using 21st century digital technology, the theme seems more redolent of the 20th century. Labour-saving devices and consumer products that take over our lives while pretending to liberate us -- well, for me it has a feel of the 1950s and Vance Packard's 'Hidden Persuaders', or of Chaplin's Modern Times. There are references to Benedict Cumberbatch and the Daily Mail, which suggest a preference for easy laughs rather than an argument that might truly disturb the audience and take it out of its comfort zone.
Orwell's 1984, recently dramatised at the Almeida by Headlong with great aplomb, has a much better storyline and resonates much more strongly as a political fable. Nonetheless, the script of Golem has an intense hypnotic rhythm, as the cast repeat 'Say yes to Progress' and 'Move with the times or you'll be left behind'. The Golem who 'knows what I want before I do' offers human beings extra convenience and extra leisure, but never anything remotely sexual. This Golem is asexual and non-violent, and is therefore no Caliban. In fact, it is nothing to be alarmed about. There's a dark side to the 21st century dystopia that the play seems to shy away from.