(Photos by Jonathan Keenan)
CITY OF GLASS
Until Saturday 18th March, 2017
Widely celebrated for their animation and projection designs for the likes of War Horse (Royal National Theatre), An American in Paris (Imperial Theatre, New York), Satyagraha (English National Opera), Wonder.land (Manchester International Festival) and, biggest of all, the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, Tony Award-winning 59 Productions are undoubtedly amongst the most innovative and technically advanced design teams currently working in the theatre. City of Glass is no exception.
A stunning feat of inspired staging, superb design and spectacular video projection, this co-production between 59 Productions, HOME and Lyric Hammersmith – directed by 59 Productions co-founder Leo Warner, with set design by Jenny Melville and video design by Lysander Ashton – is about as close to an immersive and beguiling cinematic experience as the theatre can offer, featuring strong performances from the versatile quartet of Chris New, Mark Edel-Hunt, Jack Tarlton and Vivienne Acheampong.
Adapted by Duncan Macmillan from both the first novella in Paul Auster’s now cult favourite series, The New York Trilogy, and the subsequent graphic novelisation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, City of Glass is a surreal and convoluted net-noir blending Auster’s familiar themes of absurdism, existentialism, blurred reality and the frantic search for identity and meaning.
The complex tale follows the psychological ordeal of Daniel Quinn, a reclusive writer of mystery fiction, who unwittingly becomes embroiled in a real life detective story of his own when he receives a late night phone call from the troubled Peter Stillman, requesting the help of private detective, Paul Auster. Adopting the persona of Auster, Quinn agrees to help the disturbed young man and protect him from his abusive, sociopathic father who is about to be released from the mental hospital. Soon consumed by his new case, Quinn finds himself losing a grip on reality and descending deeper into madness as the lines between fiction and reality dissolve into a dark abyss.
The hard-boiled Private Eye narration works well for the most part, enhancing the signature Film-Noir narrative style, however in using the voiceover technique throughout, as a key narrative device, Macmillan remains perhaps a little too faithful to the source texts and distances the actors from ever fully engaging with the audience on an emotional level.
Auster’s subversive novella playfully deconstructs the traditional pulp fiction formula in a fusion of postmodernism and metafiction, and Macmillan often captures the themes and styles very well, however, despite a fascinating premise and dynamic opening, the play unfortunately begins to lose some of its momentum as it meanders towards its final scenes.
What begins as a compelling, pacey mystery thriller eventually slow-burns its way into enigmatic, psychological drama territory that perplexes a little more than it thrills. It is by no means disappointing, just a little frustrating and lacklustre, never quite matching the rhythm and dynamic heights of many of the preceding sequences.
Seamlessly whisking the audiences from Quinn’s dingy apartment to late night diners, railway stations, alleyways, libraries and various other New York locations in the blink of an eye, Warner’s production is a truly mesmerising technical achievement, further enhanced by Matt Daw’s glorious lighting design and a towering noir score from composer Nick Powell.
Running Time: 1 hour and 40-minutes (approx.) (no interval)
Final Performance at HOME, Manchester: Saturday 18th March, 2017
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