DramaNorth WestReview

City of Glass – HOME, Manchester

Writer: Paul Auster

Adaptor: Duncan MacMillan

Director: Leo Warner

Reviewer: Brian Gorman

Well, this is eye-opening (and mind-expanding) stuff! Adapted by Duncan MacMillan from the first book of American novelist Paul Auster’s 1980s trilogy, the 59 Theatre Company have a world premiere to be proud of.

This is an intense, beautiful, visually-glorious experience that kicks off with depressed thriller writer Daniel Quinn’s urge to take on the persona of his private eye protagonist, resulting in a series of alternative realities spinning around each other, and creating a fascinating, horrifying, and mind-boggling web of intrigue. Setting aside his personal material reality, our hero becomes consumed in his own script, following a middle-of-the-night phone call to a seemingly wrong number, that he had subconsciously longed for. A beautiful woman needs his help when her disturbed husband is threatened by his domineering and terrifying father. But, the woman thinks she has called a private detective called ‘Paul Auster’, and Quinn elects to play along. Yes, folks, it’s all a touch meta-textual.

Creating his own reality, based on his literary vision, Quinn (played by two actors, Mark Edel-Hunt and Chris New) is soon embroiled in a series of nightmare, film noir inspired scenarios involving femme fatales, eccentric wealthy oddballs, and acid-tongued alter-egos. When things don’t go according to script, Quinn becomes obsessed with finding the ‘truth’. He clings to the memory of a kiss, like a crazed drug addict desperate for the next hit, and we have no choice but to accompany him.

Eventually coming up against a physical, mental, and emotional brick wall, with every other character either presumed dead or missing, Quinn sacrifices everything. The finale is grand, disturbing, evocative, exotic, and genuinely inspiring. The special effects are truly amazing.

59 Productions have really gone to town in delivering Auster’s vision, with incredibly intricate lighting and visual effects by Matt Daw, terrifying and nightmarish sound design by Gareth Fry, and an evocative score from Nick Powell. A small cast of six have plenty to do, especially Edel-Hunt and New, who allow the energetic Quinn to be in several places at the same time. New also doubles as ‘Paul Auster’, when all apparent logic goes out the window and we have a writer pretending to be his own P.I. Protagonist meeting another writer with the same name as the real-life novelist, but has seemingly been mistaken for another fictional private eye (who is a real life private eye in the context of the play we are watching). Confused? You will be, but you won’t mind.

Jack Tarlton is mesmerising as the ghostly Peter Stillman, the son who has been experimented on for years by his deranged father. Evoking Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty from Blade Runner, he moves like a stop motion mannequin, and speaks like a man possessed by competing demons. Tarlton also plays the elder Stillman as a soft-spoken psychopath, clearly distinguishing him from his wretched son. Vivienne Acheampong is suitably sultry and enigmatic as Mrs Stillman, and equally effective as contrasting supporting characters.

In City Of Glass, there is no objective reality. There are reflections, there are ghosts, there are visions, dreams, and promises. As 1980s chart-toppers T’Pau once said “Don’t push too hard; your dreams are china in your hand”, and it’s pretty dangerous to push hard against glass. The late philosopher and science-fiction writer, Robert Anton Wilson created the term ‘reality tunnels’. He once opined “I don’t know what anything ‘is’. I only know how it seems to me at this moment”. We all write our own script. It is only by abandoning the script, that we can truly be gods. We have to abandon the ego.

Runs until 18 March 2017 | Photo: Jonathan Keenan

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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