Watching Golem at the Young Vic last year was the first time the thought crossed my mind that, given the choice, I would gladly stay in my seat and watch the whole thing over again but this time with no script or music to distract me from the jaw-dropping animated designs.
First things first, let’s get this straight, that is no reflection on the script or music. 1927 co-founder Suzanne Andrade’s story of a loner who buys his very own creature capable of improving every aspect of his life is witty, fascinating and terrifying, while anyone who has seen the show will also recognise that moment of disappointment when you don’t see the characters’ band Annie And The Underdogs’ first album for sale at the theatre bar afterwards.
Andrade’s partner in crime, Paul Barritt, has created illustrations that run – quite literally at points – alongside the story, seemingly live animated behind the cast, and give the production an aesthetic magic that takes a clever fable-like tale from compelling to astonishing. It’s what led many a critic to write the hackneyed phrase “It’s like nothing you will have seen before” and will have no doubt played a large part in its West End transfer to the Trafalgar Studios.
Keen to find out more, we got hold of some of the original designs to take a closer look and spoke to Barritt to discover exactly how Morph and ET both played a part in creating Golem himself:
Making work is a collaborative process from the beginning. I make some stuff, Suzanne writes some stuff, we rehearse some stuff, make some music and it goes like that. It’s totally devised.
The aesthetic journey of the show was always going to be connected to the actual journey in the show. It moves from this very chaotic analogue world into a flat homogenised world, where this yellow colour gradually encroaches in. These were design ideas that were very connected to when we were talking about the actual story; as we were developing the story, we were developing design ideas that would be narrative carriers as well.
Golem himself is made out of clay, he’s like a figurine. He has his own aesthetic. We played around and made quite a lot of different models before we got him right. We thought quite a plain face would be good, nothing too expressive. He actually sometimes looks a little bit like ET, but that’s not a deliberate thing. Obviously I was brought up on a diet of Morph and ET, even though I hated ET. But Morph definitely, I used to love it so kind of stuff like that.
My process uses a combination of drawing and computers. Drawing to start off with and then scanning in textures, and then animating.
It’s a real heady combo of influences, a real mixture. I’ve watched lots of Polish animation recently. Also stop frame animation. For the yellow corporate thing, we used a combo of constructivism and cut out techniques, with pop art, Richard Hamilton type things. That was kind of the point of pop art as well, to send that type of thing up.
A lot of the streets in Golem came from photos I took in downtown LA. We were there doing an opera. Downtown LA is great; it’s a part of LA they’re trying to gentrify now, but it’s kind of been left and you’ve got all these old 20s cinemas, which are just empty, they’re like churches. You could say that they don’t look a million miles away from Dalston and Hackney too; the town planners in London would have it another way and eventually will completely obliterate the interesting stuff from the streets of Hackney and Dalston, but it was a combination of there and downtown LA.
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