You may have noticed that every time Professor Stephen Hawking warns that creating artificial intelligence could threaten humanity’s existence, he makes the news. Why’s it newsworthy every time? Because nobody can believe that a scientist can be so suspicious about scientific Progress. Progress is a good thing, isn’t it?
In Suzanne Andrade’s richly satirical play Golem, Progress – with a capital P – is never a good thing. It’s the dream which has come to control us. It’s what tells Robert Robertson to speak to his mates in the ones and zeroes of binary; what tells us to live our lives like clockwork automata, submitting every last action to systems and efficiency savings. It is all things modern and mechanised; it is Amazon, Tinder, the music of U2.
The golem of Jewish mythology is a clay being animated by magic into a servant. And a lumpen but helpful sedimentary assistant is precisely what young Robert buys from the local golem shop. But as golem gets upgraded and Progressed, he starts to control Robert, and to push Progress on Robert – starting with his clothes, then his love life, friends, and family. Now who’s the master?
As much as it is a political machine, Golem is a visual tour-de-force. Inspired by the imagery of expressionism and historic sci-fi robots, Animator Paul Barritt projects a cartoon metropolis across screens through which performers poke heads and bodies to deliver queasy soundbites. It’s what theatre troupe 1927 do.
Everywhere in the metropolis are phony choices and inane sales gimmicks – the faceless capitalism of golem-land suppressing individuality. So even as Robert’s punk band hammers out its radical refrains (there’s lots of music too, and it’s jazzy in a mid-century Eastern European kind of way), his golem is learning to rhyme slogans about the benefits of next-day delivery. If this is the dystopia we’re heading for, at least it’s hilarious.
Golem is at the Young Vic until 31st January 2015. Tickets: 0207 922 2922
1927's trailer for Golem is below: