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A CurtainUp London Review
City of Glass
"To remember . . . . what it feels like to wear other people's clothes. To begin with that, I think and the strange sense I would have of climbing into his skin." — Quinn
City of Glass
Chris New as Daniel Quinn (Photo: Jonathan Keenan)
Duncan Macmillan's adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 was record breaking and here he adapts another novel full of dystopian mystery. Paul Auster's three novels coupled together as The New York Trilogy commence with City of Glass with a writer called Daniel Quinn (Mark Edel-Hunt and Chris New) answering a phone ringing in the middle of the night with a person determined to find a private detective called Paul Auster. Quinn decides on a whim to pretend to be Paul Auster and agrees to meet the mysterious Peter Stillman to find out what the detective work would entail.

Unusually the direction and design and production are credited to an overarching company, 59 Productions, a company responsible for many of the technology and video inserts in plays put on in London. Leo Warner, who directsCity of Glass is the founding director of 59 Productions who worked with Danny Boyle on the video input for the celebrated Opening Ceremony in London for the 2012 Olympic Games. They were also involved in the 2014 projections on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, a venture combining storytelling, projection and architecture.

Before the play starts and afterwards, there is an optional Virtual Reality presentation using images of Stillman but not those from the graphic version of Auster's novel which he co-wrote with David Mazzucchelli. Users wear a strange head set and are free to experience the detailed drawing of the New York apartment set in 360 degrees.

On stage, the approach of using holographic images and VR means that the characters can appear in two places at once adding to the sleight of hand, illusional mystery as we see Quinn exit on one side of the stage only to enter at the other in different clothes.

At one level the novel starts with a straightforward mystery with the figure of the younger Peter Stillman (Jack Tarlton) whose father, a professor at Columbia who experimented with obscure religions and language development and who locked upon his son as an experiment by depriving him of language. Caught by the authorities for child cruelty, at the beginning of the book, Stillman the elder (also Jack Tarlton) is now about to be released from a psychiatric institution or prison after thirteen years incarceration. Daniel Quinn as Paul Auster is tasked with tailing the elder Stillman who the younger one fears will want to kill him.

Leo Warner who read Auster's novel as a teenager and wanted to dramatise it. I have read it for the first time very recently so it was fresh in my mind and I was impressed at how many of the words from the narrative are intact in the production, often presented as voices over. Some of the negotiation is carried out by Peter Stillman's wife Virginia (Vivienne Acheampong) who casts a sexual spell over Daniel Quinn.

Paul Auster has inserted himself , his wife Siri and his son Daniel into the play. Curiously I know about these real people from Siri Hustvedt's beautiful novels, so again here is a fictional premise drawing on fact which adds layers to the mystery. I cannot give away the ending here for two reasons; firstly the critical code prevents disclosure or spoilers but also because I am unsure of what the ending means. So the viewer will have to unravel the gauze of ambiguity in this visually innovative and enthralling but puzzling production.

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City of Glass
Adapted by Duncan Macmillan
Written by Paul Auster
Directed by Leo Warner
Directed, designed and produced by 59 Productions
Starring: Mark Edel-Hunt, Chris New, Jack Tarlton, Vivienne Acheampong
With: Charlie Cunningham/Oscar Williams
Set Design: Jenny Melville
Video Design: Lysander Ashton
Lighting Design: Matt Daw
Sound Design: Gareth Fry
Movement director: Kim Brandstrup
Composer: Nick Powell
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 8741 6850
Booking to 20th May 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th April 2017 preview performance at The Lyric, King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 0QL(Tube: Hammersmith)
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