City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith review: a glimpse into the future of theatre production

Simon Thomson
City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith

City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith is an adaptation of Paul Auster’s cult novel, and the postmodern pulp noir translates stunningly to the stage.

When tragic crime writer Daniel Quinn mistakenly receives a call for a private detective, he is drawn into a troubling family conflict, protecting a traumatised young man from a delusional abusive father who is about to be freed from prison. Quinn falls for his client’s wife, but as he unravels the mystery, his mind unravels too, and a simple detective story becomes an increasingly abstract meditation on language, storytelling, and the nature of literary truth.

Duncan Macmillan’s script is strong and lean, if a little too reliant on voiceovers, and there are similarly strong performances from Mark Edel-Hunt and Chris New, who share the role of Quinn. New also excels as the metatextually present Paul Auster, while Jack Tarlton turns in a pair of engrossingly weird performances as the developmentally stunted client Stillman, and his theologically unhinged father. But despite their good work, the cast cannot help being upstaged by the stage itself.

The visuals take inspiration from the graphic novel adaptation of City of Glass, drawn by Batman: Year One artist David Mazzucchelli, with the bifurcated stage sometimes operating like the cells of a comic book. But as the story unfolds it is difficult not imagine the influence of Christopher Nolan; the use of stage magic and two actors in the same role conjure up The Prestige, while the swooping cityscapes plant the seeds of Inception.

With sets by 59 Productions, the bleeding edge video design and projection team responsible for some of the most memorable parts of the London 2012 opening ceremony, perfectly timed animations dance across surfaces, expanding and collapsing distances and creating a hyperreality that feels truly innovative; a marriage of technology and live performance that heralds a new era of vital, sensual, liminal theatre.

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