Glass in Manchester

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre have a new Philip Glass work, Tao of Glass, “an exploration of life, loss and a single question: Where does true inspiration come from?” It’s a collaboration with Phelim McDermott, who has worked with his music before.

Tao of Glass review – golden odyssey through Philip Glass’s music
Tao of Glass, co-directed with Kirsty Housley and with a score by Glass himself, is – on one level – the story of McDermott’s long-held dream of creating a piece to his music. Aided by three puppeteers and a small band of musicians, he acts out his story not as a narrative, but as a collage of fragments. His initial idea, he tells us, had been to stage Maurice Sendak’s children’s book In the Night Kitchen, about a boy falling into a surreal underworld. But Sendak died before work could begin, and the project came to nothing. Yet what do we have here? A falling puppet boy, a model piano that ingeniously transforms into a toy theatre of kitchen cupboards and utensils, a fantasy flight inside a milk bottle, all to a specially composed score.

It all sounds extraordinary.

Meditating in Manchester: Tao of Glass – in pictures
This world premiere at Manchester international festival combines Philip Glass’s mesmerising music and performer-director Phelim McDermott’s theatricality.

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Philip Glass: from Einstein on the Beach to a superfan in Manchester
As a young Glass fan, McDermott saw ENO’s European premiere of Akhnaten in London in 1985. After picking up his ticket, he says, he spotted the composer in the street and followed him around Covent Garden until Glass disappeared into a sushi restaurant. “I guess there was a fantasy – if I stopped him, what would I say? A little bit like when I saw Quentin Tarantino at a crime writers’ festival in Nottingham. On some level, Tao of Glass is me finally daring to stop Philip and ask him a question.”

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I love how he has a matching anecdote.

Philip Glass: I once had Salvador Dali in the back of my cab
An element of this show is Phelim McDermott’s love of your music. He says in 1985 he followed you down the street and was too shy to say hello. Have you ever had a moment where you were starstruck?

Oh yes. In my early days as a composer, I had day jobs as most people do. For a period of time I was driving taxis and Salvador Dali got in my cab. Can you believe that? With the moustaches and everything. And I was dying to talk to him.

But it was a very short ride. I took him from a restaurant back to his hotel, only about six blocks. And I was thinking, I’ve gotta say something. I never could think of anything to say to him. Better that, because I’m afraid that if I said something, whatever it was, it would have been probably very stupid. In the end I can say I missed meeting him by very little.

Reminds me of the time as a student when I almost met Peter Greenaway. We were both on a train to Cardiff, for a showing and Q&A of The Baby of Mâcon at the Chapter arts centre. Yep, just too shy to meet a hero. Good to know I’m not the only one.

Apes on a stage

One of my favourite books is now a play, and Patrick Marmion’s stage version of Will Self’s Great Apes is getting great reviews.

Young British Apes
Transferred to the present day, complete with mobile phones, Twitter and “the statue of the colonial fascist Rhodes”, the story loses none of its satirical power. There is a hilarious scene in which a celebrated naturalist (Stephen Ventura) talks to Simon about the mating habits of humans in the wild. Office politics are shown in all their fighting, biting, bum-kissing glory. Monkey puns – “the green shoots of recovery”, “the swing of my group house” and suchlike – are good, but the funniest scenes are those that take place among the art mob. Simon, with his asymmetric quiff and endless supplies of drugs, is a composite of all the trendy artists of the past two decades.

Back in the Young British Artist era, Self’s novel was an early prophecy of artists losing their “sense of perspective”. Marmion’s version is cleverly done, playing on our nostalgia for the year when New Labour’s landslide victory was followed by Charles Saatchi’s show Sensation: Young British Artists – a feeling that endures because 1997 was “the future that never happened” (to borrow the title of Richard Power Sayeed’s recent book). Twenty years and Turner Prizes later, we are, in Busner’s words, “not into the woods yet”.

And here’s a section from the author on what he was aiming for with his novel.

Will Self on Great Apes
It became my objective to write the ape satire that would mark our annihilation of our near-conspecific: a prolonged and clamorous howl of approaching species-loneliness. My tactics were simple: to pile detail-upon-detail of chimp/human physical correspondence, until my readers had no option but to accept – in their very guts, muscles and sinews – the reality of their kinship.

Read more about Great Apes at the Arcola Theatre and watch the trailer and behind-the-scenes videos.