L: Where did the idea for Golem come from?
S: We read the book [The Golem] by Gustav Meyrink first. I started researching the original myth of the golem, which is a Jewish myth. I was in the British library for a few weeks getting everything out that was Golem related. It’s inspired so many stories – Frankenstein, for example. I kept coming back to the idea of artificial intelligence and cloning.
At the same time I was seeing friends and their technology – iPhones, Facebook, Twitter – taking over more of their lives. This is a real shift in how we interact with each other.
That started to seep into the show. We’ve made it rather dystopian – but that’s not to say we think the world is going to go that way.
How do you want people to react to the play? Is it a call to action or do you just want people to think about the ideas a bit more deeply?
Yes, we’d like people to think about it more, but is the way to make people think really by making a theatre show that’s quite funny? It’s something I think about all the time: how to make work that’s politically engaging, that’s entertaining and funny and that makes people think.
That was one of the reasons we’ve focussed on the negative aspects. We thought it might make people think about what can be an uncritical embrace of technology.
It’s our politics edition on the site this month, so we’ve been thinking a lot about how to get people engaged at Libertine. In some ways, humour is so effective because it makes you open up to the ideas rather than feel you’re being shouted at.
Yes, I think it does. The interesting thing is how you make people take action.
It’s tricky. I went to see Juliet Stevenson host a conversation about women and children in [immigration residential unit] Yarl’ s Wood. At the end there was a petition you could sign. Everybody had heard these women talking about the completely inhumane treatment, and then they came out and signed the petition. Golem doesn’t have that sort of, step out of the theatre and you can immediately take action. I think that’s a difficult thing to do.
A lot of your shows are very high tech – they don’t just involve people on the stage.
We use so much technology to make our show happen, but it has to work for us. It’s about collaboration – it’s very much about leaving your ego at the door and working together. Every aspect is just as important as everything else. The performers have this constant dialogue with the live music and the prerecorded songs, and with our stage manager who’s basically cuing all the animations – there are about 500 tiny animation cues. It’s a very in-depth and collaborative process.
We try to never let the technology lead us too much, and we’re constantly trying to disrupt the look of things so it never looks too digital.
What do you see as the Golem’s modern parallel? You’ve referenced advertising before.
I’m obsessed with advertising because I find it so intrusive. I thought about what a great advertising tool Golem could be: this softly spoken, large clay man who just makes suggestions.
Obviously there are parallels with Facebook and with our iPhones, with Google, with Amazon. People kept saying to us “if the show is more about technology and its control over us, why don’t you make the golem like a machine? Why’s it a big clay man?” It just wouldn’t have had the same appeal to me if it was a machine. I think it has to draw on the original myth – it has to be set up like it’s some sort of weird fairytale to make the story more engaging.
What’s your relationship with technology?
As a company we’re completely reliant on it, and we have it in rehearsals from day one. My relationship with it is a rather distant one, though. Outside of rehearsals I try to spend as little time as possible on the internet. I have a crap phone that I turn off all the time because I’m very worried about it disrupting my life completely. I get laughed at for it or people act like I’m being a bit holier than thou for not having an iPhone and not being on Facebook. I got an A-Z out the other day and someone said, “that is so aggressively retro.” I thought, really? An A-Z?!
Maybe I won’t be able to carry on like that for much longer. But that’s my current relationship with technology.
I think that puts you at an advantage though. I think it’s increasingly rare to find people who can concentrate.
I suppose in a way, yes. I’ve watched friends before trying to work creatively and spending all their time on YouTube showing each other clips. I can see that it’s a detrimental way of working.
But who knows, maybe I’m at a disadvantage. Maybe people are managing to concentrate on 15 things at a time when I can only concentrate on one. We’re yet to see how detrimental it is – or isn’t. A lot of people have just grown up with it.
Golem runs at the Young Vic until May 22nd. youngvic.org