In 2006, I stopped going to the theatre.
We had a one year old, and nights out were precious.
Theatre just seemed too risky.Every now and again you’d see a cracker, but more often than not it would be some overly-earnest, self-indulgent, impenetrable shite.
Last week, I changed my tune.
I saw two plays; The Nether, and Golem. It’s been a long time since I’ve been forced to think in the way that each of these plays forced me to think. And it’s been forever since I felt impelled to recommend theatre to anyone.
But recommendation this is, and it couldn’t come in stronger form.
Both plays explore themes that are hugely relevant to everyone in our industry, and beyond. They ask us to consider the world that we are creating around us; particularly with reference to digital.
The Nether posits whether virtual behavior has real consequences. In that respect, it’s a much more sophisticated, and seriously darker, version of the question you might ask your kids:
‘if a tree falls in a Minecraft forest, does it make a sound?’
Creative technologists will be humbled by the play’s subtle reminder that, no matter how savvy we think we are now, the digital world we have created still only engages, what, 2 of our 5 senses? Where is touch, where is smell, where is taste? In our digital world, everything is behind glass, like a visit to the Reptile House. Not so in The Nether…..
Go and see it, also, to marvel at the Olivier award-winning set. It is the stuff of most brands’ (and agencies’) wet dreams: a seamless, and totally credible, integration of real and digital materials and media. Stunning.
Golem, too, employs a set that is a beautiful, avant-garde blend of the online and offline. It is worth seeing the play for that alone. But it is the spellbinding story that will stay with you. And the themes that will haunt you for days afterwards.
Golem is, for my money, the 1984 of 2015. But it is even more terrifying than Orwell’s classic, because it is ultimately grounded in a parallel world that feels all too familiar.
In Hebrew legend, a golem was a little figure made of clay who would do his master’s bidding; take on the chores he didn’t want to, make his life more efficient, more convenient. Usually the golem was small enough that the master could take the golem everywhere with him: he was, if you like, ‘mobile’.
In the old stories, the problem with these sort of semi-conscious mobile entities was that they didn’t tend to want to stay semi-conscious for very long. With each new iteration (‘This really does change everything!’), the golem became more ‘helpful’, and the master became less sure that he was, in fact, the master.
Luckily, these days, we are all far too smart to carry semi-conscious mobile entities everywhere we go in the name of efficiency and convenience….
And so the play’s brilliant, mainly female, cast leads us, through an exquisitely uncomfortable reflection and examination of ourselves and our pursuit of ‘progress’ – and what we might be surrendering in its name.
At times the (hugely funny) songs, the costumes and the production’s overall look and feel will have you relaxing into thinking you’re watching some sort of continental clowning; a fin de siècle circus act.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Because Golem is, in fact, one of the most brilliant, and deeply disturbing, things you are ever likely to see.
A very senior former ECD told me last week that he thought originality of thought in ad-land was in the shortest supply he had ever experienced. There was, he said, a veritable ‘drought’.
If Golem and The Nether are anything to go by, right now in theatre-land, their cup runneth over.
We should all go and drink from it; deeply.
See The Nether if you can.
Cancel everything to see Golem.
– this piece first kindly published by Campaign Magazine