STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A play with a dark message about technology makes its point with the innovative use of technology. The performance comes from a British theater company called 1927. Part of its act is like nothing you could have seen in 1927 and, for that matter, like nothing else you'd see on stage today. Their shows have traveled the world. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports on their newest play in London called "Golem."
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Lots of theater companies use animation. None of them uses it quite like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SHAPIRO: Any play by 1927 will have just a few actors on stage standing in front of a big, white screen. On that screen, the animator Paul Barrett creates eerie, stylized worlds.
PAUL BARRETT: The animation is both the sets and the environment which the performers are performing in. But it also acts as a character in the play as well.
SHAPIRO: The company's new play, "Golem," is a parable about technology taking over our lives. The title character is a giant, clay man who starts as a servant and ends up the master.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "GOLEM")
ROSE ROBINSON: (As Golem) Golem can talk. Golem can rhyme. Golem was playing up before bedtime.
SHAPIRO: The character comes from ancient Jewish folklore - a lump of clay magically brought to life to protect the inhabitants of a city. This story puts the character in a different context. Barrett used stop-motion animation to create his Golem out of actual clay. He filmed that, then projected it on top of crazy, animated collages of run-down cityscapes.
BARRETT: These are kind of loosely based on all these photos that I took in downtown LA actually, quite a lot of it - sort of neon lights and all of this, like, run-down, knackered city.
SHAPIRO: The show's production manager is Helen Mugridge. With a click of the computer, she turns Golem's head and makes streetlights go from red to green.
HELEN MUGRIDGE: There are 480 video cues in the show.
SHAPIRO: In a typical scene, a live actor walks down the street with Golem, while musicians perform the soundtrack on stage.
MUGRIDGE: He's on his way to work, and now there's a street clown coming up behind them. And Golem thumps the street clown in the face, and he falls to the floor. And they start walking again, and now they're sliding down the hill and into the office.
SHAPIRO: Through all of that, one actor is walking in place at the center of the stage. And everything else, from the clown to the hill to the office, is on the screen behind him. It's a unique challenge for a performer.
LILIAN HENLEY: You have to use your imagination so much more than I think I realized.
SHAPIRO: Lilian Henley acts, plays the piano and wrote the music for the show. One of her costars is Will Close, who also plays drums in this production.
WILL CLOSE: And the margins for error are so small.
SHAPIRO: He says if an actor stands an inch in the wrong direction, it can ruin the illusion of interacting with the characters on the screen.
CLOSE: And it's always constantly trying to avoid those little infringements as much as possible because it's - that's what creates the seamless feel of the whole show.
SHAPIRO: "Golem" is a cautionary tale about technology, even though the play itself depends on incredibly sophisticated technology. Creator Paul Barrett embraces that contradiction. He says technology itself is not the problem, the problem is the way technology can take over. The play runs through the end of January. Then "Golem" takes off for China, Russia, France and the world. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, London.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.