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Theatre Review: Golem @ Nuffield Southampton Theatres

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Well, I’m not sure what to say. I’ve written over 100 reviews – including over fifteen theatre productions – and I’ve never been lost for words. But I am now, and not in a good way.

There were some positives to this production and the idea here is a novel and intriguing one. But sadly, the execution is shoddy. The narrative makes little sense, over-relies on visuals, has vocal numbers that resemble X-Factor reject artists, and has the comic timing of a granddad at a funeral. It’s a shame: the potential is there, but it needs to be worked out a lot more effectively. 

At its heart is an interesting premise: what would happen if technology took over the world?However, Golem imagines a future where technology merely makes us wear really odd clothing, bunk off work, and buy a machine that knits for us. Of course, these are intended as extended metaphors of losing control, but the point is lost. Instead, the narrative ends up crumbling on itself, mostly because half way through it's difficult to care what happens next. Theatre works by making you engage with the characters and the narrative. Here I would happily have walked out half way through. In fact, I saw at least three members of the audience do just that.

The use of constant animation is also interesting here. In a similar style to the Freelusion company, the set is projected against a live animation throughout the whole show. I can imagine this bringing to life a theatre show around Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, but it seems a little wasted here. Apart from the “Golem” character that is used to represent advancing technology, the rest of the animation could function more realistically as a traditional set. In fact, making it a projection makes the whole thing just seem like it lacked any hinging in reality, which is irritating considering the purpose of the production is to make people contemplate the omnipresent role technology has in their lives.

The costume design is weird and wacky, mixing fantasy with 1960’s England; the characters seem like their personalities were plucked from Alice in Wonderland; and technology has a penis, though no jokes trade on it - it's just there. And then there is a band dressed up as sixteenth-century cardinals. None of it makes any sense! Of course, you can create a fantasy world for the audience to enter, but that world needs its own internal coherence. Messy is not the same as fantasy.  

Part of me thinks that the vocal numbers are intended to be ironic. But then I’m not sure how many theatre goers want to hear bad vocals, however ironic their purpose is.

It’s worth noting that this all has the potential to work, but Golem fails to commit to one single vision. It could be an Alice in Wonderland-esque extravaganza (which still allows for a concurrent political commentary) or aim for some sense of realism - yet what materialises is a theme that is muddled, leaving the audience confused and bored. 

The one thing that saves it, however, is some half-decent comedy. There is a section to the play that explores the nature of online dating that contains some genuine laughs, even though it could flesh this out more.    

It's a shame: Golem has some real potential and the Nuffield Company have produced some wonderful shows in the past. This is no time to write them off. But, in this case, nothing really works. A thin plot, archetypal characters, and baffling set design make for a play that is both incoherent and dull in equal measure. Let's hope that their next efforts fare better. 

To find out more, visit the NST website




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