City of Glass

In the foyer at Manchester’s HOME there has been a virtual reality experience for the last three weeks which gives a glimpse into what to expect from Paul Auster’s City of Glass, running at HOME from 4-18 March 2017.  On stage the adaptation is just as visually impressive.

So, how good is the technology?  Well, it feels like the grand design that is projected onto public buildings, condensed into something very precise for the stage.  Flawless video projection allows a single set to be used convincingly for several locations, both internal and external, eliminating set changes and allowing immediate transition from one scene to the next.  Digital animation is used effectively to create movement – shadows of people, falling rain and the changing of light both day and night all feature strongly and give the production a highly filmic feel.  Buildings grow and the myth of the Tower of Babel is recreated around the set.  And as the main character, Daniel Quinn, hides in an alley, the technology allows us to pan up and back towards the highest skyscrapers of the city.  We truly do watch a graphic novel unfold in real time; even the short snaps from one scene to the next evoke that feel.

What about the story?  Writer Daniel Quinn receives a call asking for the detective Paul Auster, and decides to take both the case and the detective’s identity.  This is a densely layered concept focusing predominantly on loneliness and identity, but drawing in the role of the author. There are deep reflections on the structure of Don Quixote and the role of words in modern society.  It’s a niche genre – the metaphysical detective story – where the detective not only fails to solve the crime but questions his own identity and needs.   If you’re not familiar with the story or the genre, it can be confusing; were it a book you’d want to go back a few pages to reread sections.

I would always argue that a piece of theatre should stand on its own, with no need for prior knowledge.  But this is a play that requires some knowledge of at least the genre.  The writing probably is a true reflection of the original text but it hasn’t been opened up effectively for audiences new to the work; at times it feels self-indulgent and inward looking.  It’s an impossible challenge to please both those new to the work and those that love the original.  But it is the imagery and not the text that opens this story up.

This is the closest I have seen to a film on stage; the spectacular quality of the video surpasses anything I have seen before.  Others have done it with more traditional means (for example the Train).  Certainly it’s not a drama.  But perhaps that was never the point; what is created on stage is a very impressive live graphic novel.

Photos by Jonathan Keenan


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

One Response to “City of Glass”

  1. Andrew Wild says:

    City of Glass is one of my favourite books, Dave – I did, in fact, adapt it for the stage a few years ago and sent it to Paul Auster. I recieved a reply, unfortunately both snotty and patronising. Ah well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.