Image: Tristram Kenton
Tao of Glass by Philip Glass & Phelim McDermott – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Better known as a director and creator of theatre with Improbable, Phelim McDermott performs Tao of Glass as a one-man show with puppets and musicians. His account of developing he work with Philip Glass is a strangely old fashioned affair, full of inconsequential detail that detracts from the original music, composed by Glass, which accompanies the play. The show is the story of its own making, a genre that is by no means original. At one point Glass, who McDermott is courting in New York for a joint show, notes that he has a thesis for a show. He is spot on, and McDermott’s approach is a rambling, biographical account of inherently uninspiring events loaded with his research into eastern concepts of reality. The title refers partly to a glass coffee table that gets broken by builders, an event that fails to gain in significance when it is narrated in detail on stage. McDermott is a likeable presence, but the feeling persists that Glass was happy to be involved at a distance in a show that is self-indulgent and lacks a core rationale. McDermott gives up little of himself in his harmless, self-deprecating anecdotes and there is no sense of danger at any point. The show’s puppetry, involving scrunched up sheets of music, also offers little new. The one point where everyone holds their breath comes when a player-piano rigged Steinway grand plays back Glass’s improvisation, as though he were in the room. He is not (his agent features a lot, batting away demands) and his declaration, reported by McDermott, that he is “a Steinway artist” and they have an new piano suggests a man fulfilling his sponsorship requirements rather than committing to a creative process.