Fatherland is one of the central performance pieces at the 2017 Manchester International Festival. Staged in Manchester’s monumental Royal Exchange Theatre, Fatherland is the product of an impressive creative team and seeks to explore themes around fatherhood and men’s relationships with their fathers.
Co-created by Olivier Award-winning Simon Stephens (Writer), Scott Graham of physical theatre giants Frantic Assembly (Director) and founding member of UnderworldKarl Hyde (Composer)- Fatherland has been described as a verbatim piece, though it is unclear how much the stories have been edited to fit the trio’s own agenda. Fatherland is inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the creative team’s hometowns of Stockport, Kidderminster and Corby. So, there’s an overwhelming sense of each of the co-creators relationship with their old stomping ground.
As the play opens we meet the three interviewers, played admirably by Emun Elliott, Bryan Dick and Ferdy Roberts, who are ready to make their show. As they explain the premise behind their interviews with real men, there is a sense that we are watching a frame story – the ground is being laid before the show digs deeper. Sadly, Fatherland never really gets to the good stuff.
Along the way, the interviewers meet an array of characters with stories to tell – some aim for humour, some try to shock while other tales are warm, familiar and comforting. A range of subjects and experiences are tackled including alcoholism, violence, childhood experiences and their love of football. We hear tales surrounding fatherhood from single dads, men who have never known their fathers and those who are yet to father; we meet men who are firefighters, jolly pensioners and those battling mental health issues.
I’m just not sure why the creators choose to punctuate these stories with an intermittent reminder of the fact that they are making a show? Is there an element of self-indulgence? Is it a show to tell us more about the creators (who now reside in London) and the industrial towns from which they hail? One potential interviewee called Luke (Ryan Fletcher) shares the scepticism and questions the integrity of the interviewers, “Do you think this is going to be in any way interesting to anybody?” Funnily enough, I asked myself the same question frequently throughout the dull 90 minutes duration.
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 (KatieMoore) 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. TiGreen‘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.