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Reviews/Theatre

Myth and mystery make magic

7 December 2020

Cleverly weaving together two performances delivered in parallel, The Golem: or, Next Year in Jerusalem is obscure yet fascinating, writes David Zampatti.

The Golem: or, Next Year in Jerusalem, Humprey Bower and Tim Green ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 3 December 2020 ·

The salvage operation the Blue Room Theatre has mounted in the wreckage of 2020 has already delivered the exciting and skillfully executed The Jellyman.

Now it closes its end of year mini-season in triumph with Humphrey Bower and Tim Green’s The Golem – or Next Year in Jerusalem.

I’m cautious about trying to fathom its meaning here, or the real-world implications of its messages, because The Golem is like dancing dreams inside the thought processes of individuals, as elusive as they are revealing, and it will mean different things to different people.

The Blue Room Theatre closes its 2020 mini-season in triumph with <i>The Golem: or, Next year in Jerusalem</i>, says David Zampatti.
Humphrey Bower and Tim Green’s performances are ardent and vivid. Pictured is Bower, photo: Daniel Grant

Its multifarious sources include the myth of the Golem, the being made from mud that was reputed to be the protector of the Jews of 16th century Prague and continues in Jewish folklore as a figure of both hope and horror.

The creature Golem is essentially a secular, ethnic creation, rather than a religious one, but The Golem is also shot through with the forms and precepts of Jewish religiosity, from the Talmud through to the song of longing and hope that ends the Passover Seder from which comes the play’s subtitle, “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim” – “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Interconnected with these deep-rooted visions and practices are the realities of the ruined streets of the Levant, the refugees, the humiliations at the Israeli border – “They know all the answers, they just want to check” says a Palestinian (Hazem Shammas).

It’s fascinating material, even if it is obscure for those unfamiliar with it, me included, but what is intensely impressive is how Bower and Green have shaped and executed it.

To begin with, The Golem is two pieces performed in parallel through a labyrinthine set of hessian webbing designed by Rhys Morris. Joe Lui’s intense and agreeably loud soundscape plays simultaneously in both pieces, connecting them and anchoring some astoundingly precise stage management that seems to have both Bower and Green in the same place, or in two different places at once (they never are).

Wherever they are, their performances are ardent and vivid, wordless but physically and emotionally demanding. We don’t always know what they are doing, but we can grasp intuitively why they are doing it; we are, somehow, inside their minds, observing the unknowable mysteries that lie at the core of their belief.

There are rituals; the audience’s placement as we promenade through Morris’s labyrinth is important, and made with care and ceremony. There are also surprises (one of the assistant stage managers, Renee Bottern, sings Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons” – I guess because “Some people say a man is made outta mud”).

Lui’s lighting miraculously always achieves exactly the required effect. Picture is Tim Green in ‘The Golem’. Photo: Daniel Grant

The performances are magnificently supported by the production’s creative team. Morris’s set is a perfect platform for the action, and, while Lui’s lighting often seems hardly there or wavering, it miraculously always achieves exactly the required effect.

Lui does so many things so well, but I suspect he’s particularly pleased with his work here. So he should be be.

Theatre makers like Bower, Green and Lui are not here to pander to easy explanations or established expectations; I’ve often had foyer conversations with people confused, and sometimes even angered, by what they’ve seen from each of them (Bower will tell you I’ve been among them on at least one occasion). But when they deliver, which they do often, they are at the top of this town’s pecking order.

And it’s a great thrill, and no surprise, that, with The Golem, Perth’s independent stage has saved its best until last.

The remaining week of the season is sold out. I hope a way can be found to bring it back so that everyone who missed out will get the chance to see it.

The Golem continues until 12 December 2020.

Pictured top is Humphrey Bower in ‘The Golem’. Photo: Daniel Grant

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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