Crude caricature mars an attempt to link the themes of a play on the rise of Nazism in Germany to Britain today, says PAUL FOLEY
The Funfair HOME, Manchester 3/5
THE LONG wait is over. In a blaze of colour, music and dazzling pyrotechnics, Danny Boyle’s choreographed opening ceremony heralded the arrival of HOME, Manchester’s new £25 million arts centre.
The new building, sleek and shiny, nestles between the swanky new office blocks and hotels in Manchester’s up-and-coming First Street neighbourhood.
For its inaugural theatre production, HOME has commissioned local playwright Simon Stephens to adapt Odon von Horvath’s Kasimir and Karoline, written during the economic crisis of the 1920s just as the Nazi Party was beginning to seize control of Germany.
Stephens has said that he was drawn to the play because of the similarities with the political situation in Britain today. He wanted to write about the increasing gulf between the rich and poor and how the alienation and manipulation of the disenfranchised is leading to the rise of the far right, particularly Ukip.
Worthy sentiments, and British theatre is certainly crying out for a modern play tackling the political turmoil that five more years of reactionary government will bring to working people. The pity is, this is not that play.
It is set during one night at a funfair, where Cash (Ben Batt) has lost his job as a chauffeur. His resentment creates friction with his fiancee Caroline (Katie Moore) that finally boils over, leading to their break-up.
The problem with the play is a lack of nuance in the characterisation. The poor, swearing profusely and bemoaning their fate, are caricatures while the rich are crude, bloated leeches. The lack of any menace or tension creates something of a flat palette that ultimately undermines the political message.
Whether this is due to von Horvath’s original or the adaptation is hard to tell. But von Horvath was a contemporary of Brecht and when it comes to political theatre in the 21st century, the latter’s work still has the power to shock an audience.
Directed by Walter Meierjohann, the production is visually stunning, the actors work hard and talented musicians create an engaging soundscape.
But, ultimately, substance has to be more important than style.