Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Paul Auster's City of Glass

Duncan Macmillan, based on Paul Auster's novel
59 Productions, HOME, Lyric Hammersmith
HOME, Manchester
04 March 2017 to 18 March 2017

THERE are, to be sure, two ways (at least) of looking at this strange and magnificent work.

It could be charting the descent into madness of a grief-stricken writer caught up in the lives of people who exist only in his head... or it could all be real, a complex, convoluted story that twists like the twistiest of twisting, turning things.

There is no right way to look at it, which was perhaps novel writer Paul Auster’s intention 30 years ago: this is a man after all who writes himself into his stories and here, in Duncan Macmillan’s equally twisty, often baffling adaptation, has two actors playing one character (and who seems to write most of his characters in pairs, which doesn't make life any easier for the viewer).

Central character Daniel Quinn (Chris New and Mark Edel-Hunt) writes mystery stories. Picking up a wrong number one night he gets involved in the real-life case of Peter Stillman Jr, who believes his father, also Peter Stillman (both played by Jack Tarlton), has come to kill him.

In fact Stillman Sr is a harmless kook, and the story is soon abandoned to focus on the story's real purpose: to watch Quinn, who assumes the name Paul Auster (not to be confused with the other Paul Auster character, who also narrates) – into obsession and madness.

With me so far? Truth is you won’t find any clarity by watching to the end; just more confusion as Quinn's grip on reality disappears.

But strange though the story is, the company behind it, 59 Productions, continues the work of Leeds-based tech geniuses imitating the dog, whose projection-based set can offer almost any scene on any stage (as we saw in the Oldham Coliseum’s Hound of the Baskervilles and The Mist in the Mirror in recent years).

The boffins of 59 Productions also play with the stage space in incredible ways, projecting props and backdrops - both static and moving; doors and windows both opaque and translucent, interiors and exteriors, on the bare walls of a dingy, two-room set continually otherwise seen in a noirish half-light.

The evening is short (100min, no interval) wonderfully slick and frequently startling - and until I saw the musical version of Bat Out Of Hell a few days later, perhaps the most technically accomplished set I’ve seen. Now it's only one of the top two.
Expect to be mystified and blown away at the same time.

Reviewer: Paul Genty


Comment by Robert Beale

Yes, technically brilliant and a great exercise in mystification. Authors love to enclose a first-person story within another first-person story (Goethe's Werther, Hoffmann's The Sandman and Merimee's Carmen, for instance, as well as Cervantes' Don Quixote, referenced here), but to translate the mechanism on to the stage takes some doing. The dream-like presentation created with the technical gear is ideal for purpose ... and of course you forget once you wake up.

Comment by Alan Hulme

Agree more or less with all the above, though I wasn't quite as wrapped up in the story as Paul seems to have been. As with a couple of previous productions using similar techniques, the technique is the thing and that is mightily impressive. I'd like them next time to choose subject matter that is more emotionally involving, something that really makes one care what happens next.

I'm still getting to grips with HOME's main auditorium, because, for one reason or another, I haven't been there all that much. I have to say experiences so far are almost all positive. I was in the circle in row B, away to one side, the other day, and the view from there was excellent and for City Of Glass I was way back in the stalls on the very end of a row and the sightline and whole experience there was excellent also. Did the architects actually get it right?

Comment by Paul Genty

I'd just like to make clear what might not have been clear from my main review: that the technical expertise in this production is from company 59 Productions. I refer to the work of imitating the dog (Mist in the Mirror, Hound of the Baskervilles) as more people are likely to have seen that company's theatre work in this area and will follow my point more readily.

But as far as I'm aware the two companies, though equally impressive, are not connected.