Review: “Visually intoxicating” ★★★★ City of Glass at the Lyric Hammersmith

Can one wrong number really change the course of your life? It’s a question, which forms the basis of the cult meta-crime story, City of Glass, a tale, which will take you on a journey into uncertainty and self-discovery, writes Nicky Sweetland.

How your life can change within a blink of an eye is explored in Paul Auster’s 1985 novella, part of his New York Trilogy, which has been brought to life in a visually intoxicating stage production by Duncan Macmillan at the Lyric Hammersmith. The adaptation not only captures the claustrophobic intensity of the original text but also elaborates on its underlying theme of bereavement related depression.

Daniel Quinn is a crime fiction author who finds himself embroiled in a real life mystery, which leads him into a world where his inner turmoil becomes portrayed as a set of alternate realities. He is employed by a mysterious woman to safeguard her husband from his sociopathic father, who has just been released from prison. With a distinctive film noir quality, the action takes a twist towards the paranormal and the author is plunged into a dark and troubling malaise.

The otherworldly sense is formulated from technical wizardry by Lysander Ashton, which is, at times simply mind-blowing, as cityscapes merge into alleyways and graffiti scrawled walls become starry skies through the ingenious use of video projections.

Director Leo Warner makes it an immersive sensory experience, which completely envelops the audience and allows the five actors (who each seamlessly switch between multiple roles) to become part of a theatrical art installation.

Yes, the depiction of a man’s descent into mental illness is uncomfortable viewing and like the original novella, it does, at times become perplexing, but the production is nonetheless totally gripping.

The almost ethereal voice of the narrator slightly detracts from the actors’ performances, who become a bit like a gathering of well-placed props on the elaborate set, but the sheer awe-inspiring beauty of the piece overcomes this minor misgiving and the spectacle will leave you breathless.

City of Glass continues at the Lyric Hammersmith until 20 May 

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