We were (ironically) away from home for the launch of Home – Manchester’s brand-spanking new arts centre, which takes over from two legendary local institutions, The Cornerhouse and The Library Theatre. Home is housed in a great big serious-looking building at the end of First Street, replete with cinema screens, theatres, exhibition spaces, a cavernous bar and a restaurant. What’s not to like?
There’s certainly plenty to like about its inaugural theatre presentation, The Funfair. This is Simon Stephens’ astute adaptation of Odon Von Harvath’s late 20s play Kasimir and Karoline. Stephens must be the hardest working person in theatre right now and if Von Harvath’s play seems a wilfully obscure choice as the opening gambit for a brand new venue, its certainly a prescient one – the original play was set in austerity-stricken Munich just a few years before the rise of the Nazi party. It’s surely no coincidence that the story strikes a whole series of ironic chords with what’s happening in the UK right now. The action takes place in and around a seedy fairground and Ti Green’s design captures perfectly the tawdry splendour of such settings. Neon lights flicker, carousels whirl and you can almost smell the fried onions.
Cash (Ben Batt) is a former chauffeur, himself a victim of the stricken economy. Out of luck and now out of work, he worries that his already turbulent relationship with fiancé Caroline (Katie Moore) is doomed to failure by his lack of employment – and there are certainly plenty of temptations lying in wait for her when, after a row with Cash, she decides to visit the fair, with the professed intention of going on ‘all the rides’. She soon elicits the attentions of John Chase (Rhodri Meilir) a dorky but ambitious salesman with a liking for ice cream. When John’s rich boss, Billy Smoke (a superbly lascivious Ian Bartholomew) turns up accompanied by his equally venal companion, David Spear (Christopher Wright) their combined gaze falls upon Caroline… and the stage is set for a deliciously dark allegory about the human condition and its propensity for excess.
The Funfair is a dazzling box of delights, a real multi-media event that employs lights, shadows, live rock music, back and front projection, masks, movement and a central turntable that’s used to stunning visual effect, but none of this is ever allowed to overwhelm the splendid performances from the ensemble cast. Stephens’ canny script flips us back and forth like a well-oiled rollercoaster between the various intertwining stories and the events culminate in a bitter-sweet scene that will stay with you long after you’ve stumbled out of the building.
Home really couldn’t have asked for a better opening salvo than this. It’s on until the 13th of June and it’s an unqualified delight. Miss it and weep.