City of Glass
Lyric Hammersmith, May 11th 2017
So I remembered too late. I have thumbed copies of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy so I think I must have read it, or at the very least City of Glass, when it came out in the 1980’s as any young, trendyish, new-to-theworld-of-work-but-still-able-to-go-out, indie man about town type would have done. I may even have professed to like it. But I’m not sure that I actually did. It is, as this adaptation (of orginal novel and a subsequent graphic novel augmentation) reminded me, a bit silly and a bit pleased with itself. No problem with subverting genres and getting all postmodern meta in books but you have to be very careful that you steer well clear of your own back passage or risk the proverbial disappearance.
So, in my view, this incredibly talented team comprised of Duncan MacMillan who did what he could to adapt the book into a suitable work for the stage, a score by Nick Powell, whose music is a vital part of The Ferryman at the Royal Court as we speak, and 59 Productions, including first time director Leo Warner, maybe just picked the wrong starting point. The staging is extraordinary showing just what can be done using cutting edge technology, but this has been employed to so much better effect in other productions by the 59 team (not the least of which was their contribution to the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony).
The opening gambit is promising enough with the telephone call out of the blue to our hero/narrator/writer, Daniel Quinn, (DQ same as Cervantes original meta hero), conjuring up the expectation of a classic noir detective thriller. He then proceeds to find himself drawn into ever more fracturing realities leading him, and us, to question what is real and what is imagined here and ultimately into questioning his own sanity. The production however relies on heavily a narrator to move the “action” such as it is along and to explain “what” is happening, and the characters are more ciphers than individuals with whom we might want to make an emotional investment. The pace is unvarying which only led me to keep on questioning whether this might all have been better left on the pages of the original novel. And as I say the novel itself is, in my view, ultimately an exercise in pretension, though I freely admit my heart and head will always lie with the modernism daddies and not the post-modernist bastard offspring.
So sorry I couldn’t like this, though I recognise the extraordinary technical skill brought to bear on how this looked, and will definitely keep an eye open for 59 Productions next project (hoping they steer clear of Auster). And I continue to think that the Lyric Hammersmith’s ongoing ambition will be rewarded with a home-grown, or bought in, slam dunker at some point and I want to be there when it happens.