Musical: Titter ye not. This is serious

THE LEGENDARY GOLEM NEW END THEATRE LONDON

THE BOSNIAN actor Velibor Topic is an extraordinary sight. Tall and shaven-headed, he combines some of the beauty and brooding presence of the young Brando with an altogether more hulking, extraterrestrial quality. One would think twice about ever giving this man a bad review. In fact, the chance to gawp at him for extended periods of time is one of the few perks of sitting through The Legendary Golem, a new musical by Sylvia Freedman and Cathy Shostak. Topic excels as the title character, a Frankenstein-like figure fashioned from the elements by a chief rabbi to defend the Jewish ghetto from race hatred in 16th-century Prague.

You might think from such a summary that the show would be a sort of My Fair Lady meets Fiddler on the Roof, the hubristic, presumptuous creator and his coerced, unhappy creation, transferred to a context where the desperate fight for cultural survival gives the whole business an ambiguous justification. This is clearly the musical that Freedman and Shostak have set out to write. The trouble is that they have hedged their bets so much on sugary love interest (the number "Love Turns the World" should be retitled "Love Turns the Stomach") and formulaic father/son conflict, that the key issues don't loom large enough.

Or coherently. When the Golem, crazed with frustration at being an outsider- slave, runs amok and kills one of the Christian guards who are terrorising the ghetto, David Burt's dignified, dark-voiced rabbi kneels and sings a song about how he now recognises himself and his own capacity for violence in the Golem. Given his previous pacifism, this makes as much sense as giving Professor Higgins a ditty about how Eliza's example has made him realise that, deep down, he's always had a hankering to be a lady.

That's not the only puzzle. I failed to work out why, in a Prague where the Jews are constantly harassed about their identification papers and there's a virulent drive for racial purity, an eye-catching alien like the Golem can go around with apparent impunity.

The production boasts a large, talented cast which director Brennan Street steers around the tight, two-tier base with some fluency and visual flair. But the songs, with their banal rhyme schemes and unarresting music, don't rise to the occasion. A number about the impulse towards ethnic cleansing should not, by rights, make one titter, but it's hard not to when you hear that "Living is delightful/If only the frightful/Are kept in their places" (or words to that effect), while a lot of monks chant Latin.

The 1580 plot is framed by a story also set in Prague at the start of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Parallels between these two examples of oppression transcended are under-explored in favour of uplift and the muzzy message that "Legends lead us from despair/Golems can be shaped from fire and air". Which may be true, but as expressed here, just sounds a bit of a miss.

To 17 Jan: 0171-794 0022

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect