Manchester’s newest arts centre HOME thrust open its doors for its official HOMEwarming celebration last week. Following the merger between the Manchester’s Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company, the first theatre production at the new venue is perhaps a fitting fusion of old and new. The Funfair is Simon Stephens‘ new version of Ödön von Horváth‘s masterpiece, Kasimir and Karoline. There has been a huge build-up for this production and the stakes have been set quite high and sadly, The Funfair does not live up to its expectations.
Directed by Walter Meierjohann, The Funfair follows twenty four hours in the lives of two young lovers who are on the verge of splitting up. Cash (Ben Batt) has recently lost his job as a chauffeur and now fears that he will lose his girlfriend, Caroline (Katie Moore) too. In a strange and twisted parallel relationship, Frankie Marr (Michael Ryan) and Esther (Victoria Gee) already inhabit the lowest depths of despair, a world of unemployment, anger and dirt – surviving in the only way that they can.
Set in Manchester, to the backdrop of the recession and massive social unrest, the characters are unable to free themselves from the disorientating reality of the funfair. Ti Green‘s dark and distorted stage design suggests the hopeless and cyclical world which the characters fight to exist in – a revolving stage, haunting carousel and dark figures watching on from the hidden corners in the set, all manage to create an unsettling and uncomfortable atmosphere, complemented by Mike Gunning’s lighting design.
The Funfair is relentlessly bleak and despite the odd grasp at humour and the wonderful live band playing a soundtrack of popular songs – it is awkwardly politically defined and too repetitive. There is little hope for any of the characters, who are reduced to caricatures, particularly the women who are victims of abuse and are objectified in an uncomfortable sexist world. Victoria Gee’s portrayal of Esther is perhaps the only exception to this – her impressive performance is stripped back, we care about her and she gives us the only shard of hope for the future.
The Funfair is a bold first production by HOME which makes me feel thrilled to be part of the Manchester theatre scene. However, it left me feeling as if I had overindulged in candyfloss and then taken the wildest ride on the waltzers. A sensory overload but nevertheless an arresting showcase for HOME’s production capabilities which makes me very excited for the future.
The Funfair is on at HOME, Manchester (2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN) until 13 June 2015.