In a weekend that has seen much fanfare for Manchester’s new flagship arts centre, the first production in HOME’s new theatre, The Funfair, is billed to audiences as a thrilling new adaptation which takes you on a ride through the dips and highs of a night at the fairground.
And thankfully, it certainly started in that fashion, with old-fashioned funfair games, fairground bulbs blinding around a visually stunning set design whilst a typical Manchester grit surfaced from the start.
Simon Stephens adaptation of this 20th-century classic, Kasimir and Karoline, certainly had its local roots embedded into what one would now imagine is a largely bygone era.
Originally set over one increasingly unhinged night at Munich’s Oktoberfest, in the wake of an economic crash and a rising tide of national socialism in Germany, that much was apparent and a particularly uncanny parallel given its North West locality, but just how the Funfair element and focus came into play in this new adaptation was unfortunately at times just a tad dull, as was the overall plot, which mainly centres on poverty, sexual exploitation, corruption, inequality and political unrest.
Complete with a freak-show, a live band donning distinctive clown face paint, and the audible surround sound of the big dipper, The Funfair tells the dark and humorous story of Cash and Caroline, two young lovers, whose break-up is played out against the backdrop of economic and social hardship.
Stephens’s adaptation draws on clear comparisons to today’s social uncertainties which were noticeable throughout, yet still finds plenty of dry humour at the busy funfair. And with this month’s General Election result still causing headlines across the country, The Funfair really could not be timelier.
It’s brought to life by some tremendously engaging acting from its well thought out cast and a remarkably versatile yet simple funfair on stage.
Ti Green excels with the set design by introducing a rotating circular section which accentuates the productions carousel horse at the right moments, whilst subtle breaks in the cleverly illuminated back flats allow for the characters to make moody and sometimes exciting entrances intermittently.
A round red velvet curtain hovers centre stage whilst an organza screen not only breaks up the sometimes busy activity, but also acts as a perfect backdrop for the very entertaining video projections throughout.
Another nod to an overall impressive production must go the shows live band, who predominantly perform in a strikingly raised yet subtle platform, scoring the performance fantastically with hits such as The Passenger, Summertime Blues and In The Summertime.
The Choreography is also key, with the productions balloon led intro, helter skelter activities and the stunning stop-start beer tent rowdiness all excellently portrayed and mentally accessible on what is largely an intimate 500-seat theatre.
Focusing predominantly on the young engaged couple, Caroline and Cash (Katie Moore and Ben Batt), the audience is taken on a bit of a Waltzer ride throughout the evening, as the social opposites quickly break up after Cash loses his job, taking both characters on separate paths across an evening in which the audience undoubtedly gets asked many liberal and social questions through The FunFair’s many twists and turns.
It’s disjointed theatre at its best which mainly shows tempers on the rise, with each actor impeccably carrying each performance.
We obviously see more of Cash and Caroline, with both Batt and Moore admirably connecting with the audience with faultless performances as they both struggle along in completely different ways, but to single out any actor would simply be an injustice to the rest of the cast, who all unquestionably unite the audience to this production.
Its setting may clearly be in some far-flung stretch of Manchester but the place and time are unfortunately somewhat vague, but with such an overall visually and perceptible production, any misgivings over a stretched and sometimes questionable plot are quickly forgiven.
It might not live up to its overall billing as being a ‘thrilling’ adaptation, but just like its current HOME, the biggest arts centre outside of London, it is visually striking, imposing, thought-provoking and imparts you with the will to recommend.
When: Through to 13 June
Where: HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, First Street, Manchester M15 4FN.
Tickets: From £15 online or 0161 200 1500.