I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Life is a roller coaster
Nightmare might be a more apt title for The Funfair, which opens the theatrical life of HOME - Manchester's brand new £25 million centre for visual arts, theatre and film.
Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens has chosen to adapt Austro-Hungarian-born, Ödön von Horváth's 1932 play Kasimir und Karoline, for a contemporary audience. He relocates it from the Munich Oktoberfest to a park, in North West England, where a funfair has arrived.
Ben Batt (Cash) and Katie Moore (Caroline) in The Funfair . Photo by Graeme Cooper.
Amongst the freak shows and roller coasters, the screws are coming loose from Cash (Ben Batt) and Caroline's (Katie Moore) relationship. Cash has lost his job as a chauffeur and tells Caroline, before she has had a chance to prove otherwise, that she will not stick with him. Partly out of despair and anger, she strikes up a rapport with the geeky but kindly, John Chase (Rhodri Meilir).
Rhodri Meilir (John Chase). Photo by Graeme Cooper.
There is plenty of humour in the script but the darkness is ever-present. The amusements offer only temporary escapism for the protagonists, who know that they are being taken for a ride in more ways than one.
The freak show is another metaphor - in this raw form of capitalism, most people have to sell whatever they can to get by, even if it means devaluing themselves.
Some of the play's political messages seem deliberately unsubtle - especially Billy Smoke (Ian Bartholomew) and David Spear (Christopher Wright) as grotesque caricatures of lechery and rapaciousness. But it is in the way that the lack of security affects the choices characters make in their personal lives, that Simon Stephens' point is made more acutely.
Christopher Wright (David Spear), Katie Moore (Caroline), and Ian Bartholomew (Billy Smoke). Photo by Graeme Cooper.
Gender politics is also at the heart of the play, with the excellent Katie Moore, as Caroline, fighting her corner. Even the abused Esther (Victoria Gee), girlfriend of Cash's criminal friend, Frankie (Michael Ryan), starts to stand up for herself. The female characters in general, though, do seem to be economically dependent on the men - most brutally as prostitutes. Are women still as economically tied to men as when Horváth originally wrote the play? Perhaps, Stephens is saying, it depends which group in society you are talking about.
Victoria Gee (Esther) and Ben Batt (Cash). Photo by Graeme Cooper.
The action is underpinned by dynamic live music (especially a version of Iggy Pop's The Passenger). The set design, by Ti Green, and staging make great use of screens and shadows to conjure up a cinematic effect.
HOME needed to start its theatrical life with something both highly imaginative but also grounded in a provocative analysis of contemporary life. The Funfair, directed by Walter Meierjohann, definitely fits the bill.
Ian Bartholomew (Billy Smoke, background) and Katie Moore (Caroline) . Photo by Graeme Cooper.
HOME includes a 500-seat theatre, as well as a studio space, five cinema screens, digital productions and broadcast facilities, a café bar and restaurant. It has been purpose-built by Dutch architects Mecanoo.
It was formed by the merger of Manchester's Library Theatre Company and Cornerhouse arts centre. The Cornerhouse, which was built in the early 1900s, became an arts centre in 1985, replacing a family-run furniture store. The Library Theatre was officially opened by King George V in 1934. It had to find new venues to perform at, when Manchester Central Library was closed for a major refurbishment in 2010. Chekhov's The Seagull marked the final production by the company, in 2014, at the Lowry, Salford.
The Funfair is complemented by a new group art exhibition called The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, responding to the themes of the play.