Review: Tao of Glass, Royal Exchange Manchester

Poetry in motion is a phrase I often hear when watching the Formula One as the commentators describe how drivers elegantly navigate dangerous corners, but I feel it is a phrase that befits Tao of Glass. The concept for this piece is unlike anything I’ve heard of in the traditional world of theatre, but I’m finding with contemporary theatre that the creatives feel more at home with the nonsensical that ever before.

The fact that Tao of Glass is having its world premiere at the Royal Exchange makes this performance even more magical. The first play Phelim McDermott (writer, co-director and performer) ever witnessed, or rather didn’t witness was in Manchester – his home town. For a Manc, this makes Tao of Glass feel much more like a collection of memories than a play. The history of the Royal Exchange and the running theme of this piece go hand in hand, McDermott talks about what he coins “deep democracy”, the idea that the world operates on a system of three levels: consensus reality at the top, dreamland floating about in the middle and essence at the very bottom. It is the latter that would prove to be a world of inspiration for McDermott and eventually for Philip Glass. For those unfamiliar with the Royal Exchange, its theatre space has three tiers all with an amazing view of the stage. Its design was conceived by Richard Negri who believed in an opportunity of equality and wanted to reflect that in the seating design of the Royal Exchange. A subject that McDermott touches on, almost to try and validate his home town roots to the audience.

Tao of Glass is referred to online as “part-concert, part performance”, but anyone familiar with the work of Philip Glass will understand that any performance even remotely relating to Glass’ music is a masterpiece. Glass’ composition provides a wave of calm and serenity, but the underlying tension his work creates leaves you feeling as though your whole world could turn upside down with the drop of a pin. No one understands this better than McDermott, he understands what Glass is trying to say without any form of verbal communication and the partnership they’ve forged over the years is one that is completely unrivalled. 

Tao of Glass is a biographical composition told behind the beautiful Mancunian mask of Phelim McDermott with the stunning accompaniment of Philip Glass. If none of the shows at the Manchester International Festival catch your eye, I implore you to see Tao of Glass

You will not leave without being overcome with emotion, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the full house standing ovation this piece received on its inaugural night.

Tao of Glass is playing the Royal Exchange until 20 July. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Exchange website.