Review of 'City of Glass'

city_of_glass.jpg https://lyric.co.uk/shows/paul-austers-city-of-glass/

“It was a wrong number that started it…”

One night Daniel Quinn (Mark Edel-Hunt/Chris New), a crime writer, receives a phone call asking for “Paul Auster” of the “Auster Detective Agency”. Quinn tells the caller that no one by that name lives there and hangs up the phone. As the phone calls continue in the nights that follow Quinn gets more and more frustrated until he eventually relents and says that he is the detective. The caller, Peter Stillman (Jack Tarlton), is grateful and tells Quinn that he is convinced someone will try to kill him but needs to see him in person to give him the details. The next day Quinn visits Stillman's home where it is quickly apparent that the paranoia expressed by Stillman on the phone is very much his personality as he rants and raves throughout the visit. In his disturbed and confusing way Stillman relates to Quinn his conviction that it is his father, being released from prison the following day, will be returning to kill him. Later, Virginia (Vivienne Acheampong), Stillman's wife and carer, tells Quinn the sad story of Peter's childhood where he was locked in a dark room by his father for nine years causing his obvious psychological issues. The next day Quinn meets the train containing Stillman's father but when it arrives is confused when he sees the man arrive twice - Once bent over and frail, then again upright, healthy looking and well-dressed. He decides to follow the frail old man. Over the subsequent days Quinn takes detailed notes of the man's comings and goings from a seedy hotel until Quinn decides to talk to the elder Stillman despite Virginia in their nightly phone calls urging him not to do so. Quinns already tenuous grasp on reality is beginning to completely slide away…

Here the staging is a key character in telling the story of Quinn's increasing paranoia. Consisting of two rooms, one small and one large that double for all of the various scenes in the play a very convincing projection system changes the scenery on the walls of the set often subtly such as when the poster of “Max Work” (the fictional detective from Quinn's novels) talks to him or when the colour of the classical paintings in the Stillman house is drained to black and white. These sets are utterly convincing and allow for very quick scene changes with only minimal props actually on the stage - A sofa, a table with chair, a bookcase…

The entire story is narrated like a noir crime film with the voice-over providing a ironic tone to the events unfolding on the stage. This is very effective and even more so when later the narrator breaks the fifth wall making an appearance in front of the set on the stage. I have to say that the cast all put in extremely convincing performances in this difficult play in particular those playing the multiple appearances of Quinn (he is often on stage several times at once in the story) and the cool Virginia who doubles in various other roles (such as the lady reading Quinn's book in the train station). Indeed, much of the cast are made to work for their pay cheque with the incredibly fast scene and character changes all done pretty much seamlessly and with utter conviction.

The story and acting is absolutely incredible - Utterly convincing and compelling twisting the nature of realty, questioning anything and everything we see on the stage, yet, at the same time, taken at face value, we see a man simply falling apart having lost everything including his touch on reality. One thing I will note for those that may be interested in attending is that if you are of a sensitive nature, there is full male frontal nudity towards the end as we see the completion of Quinn's loss…This is not a play of any amount of humour but full of paradoxical speeches and misleading conversations with continuous sense that there is something else happening here, there is something being missed, that I am not sure the play ever really resolves but this appears to be quite common with Paul Auster's work (see my review of Travels in the Scriptorium) - No coincidence, I feel, that the detective being sought by Stillman has the same name (likely more meta positioning of the narrative).

Quite an amazing, highly accomplished, play with wonderful acting and staged amazingly well - Fantastic effects. The story tended to drag towards the end but otherwise an incredible experience.

Rating:

Review Date: 2017-04-21



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Location: London (England)

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lyric.jpg The Lyric is the center of not only live theatre but also in encouraging young people in pursuing a career in the theatre. Recently it completed a refurbishment including the Reuben Foundation Wing with state of the art educational and entertainment facilities. The Lyric makes free tickets available to local residents and workers for every show's first night. Located above the Kings Mall the main classically-decorated horseshoe auditorium is more than 100 years old and there is also a roof-top bar and cafe.