A rollercoaster of societal commentary and surreal entertainment, The Funfair impresses with fully-fleshed characters and impressive audio-visual design
The Funfair is a rollercoaster of escapism, poverty and power inequality. Imagine a world in which the real criminals are running the country, a wealthy elite with little concern for the everyday man or woman. “Wait—is that not the case in our current society?” a lot would argue. The play is a political and artistic symbiosis portraying a society fed up with those in power but who are too passive to actually change the status quo. Walter Meierjohann manages, again, to captivate the audience with an adaptation and with a great opening of the new cultural centre HOME.
It is based on ‘Kasimir und Karoline’, written in 1929 by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth. He died at a young age which might be the reason behind why he is lesser-known than Brecht or Weill in the non-German-speaking world. Similar to Brecht’s plays, his work focused on the struggle of working class people in an unequal society.
In writer Simon Stephen’s version, Kasimir and Karoline become Cash and Caroline, and the Munich Oktoberfest is represented by a funfair in Manchester. Despite the difference in time and place, the Funfair manages to capture the essence and the worries of the main characters in the original play perfectly. Unemployment, economic uncertainty and rising right-wing parties are not just phenomena of the past, but can still be observed in our society, especially after the financial crash in 2008 and the still prevailing austerity measures.
A very physical Ben Batt portrays Cash who has lost his job as a chauffeur and his fiancée Caroline suddenly notices that they are not meant for each other. Coincidence? Cash does not think so, and lets her know throughout the play. Unemployment often leads to a feeling of emasculation and Cash realises that the power balance between them has shifted; she still has a job and suitors after all.
Caroline is a three-dimensional character and her gullibility is delightfully portrayed by Katie Moore who not only charms four different men during the performance, but also the audience. As an object of desire, she first enjoys the advances but then realises that she is nothing more than an object—nice to look at and easily replaceable.
Another difficult and abusive relationship is portrayed by Michael Ryan and Victoria Gee, who play Esther and Frankie. It is very difficult to watch the torments that Esther has to endure, from misogynistic tirades, hateful slurs and physical attacks. Her character is only 19 years old and she has experienced more despair than most people in their whole lives. She represents the demographic on the bottom of the socioeconomic class system—the underclass.
Esther’s brother died in prison, she spent time there too and it is alluded that she worked as a prostitute. She has no one except for a disrespectful partner, but she seems to be the most heart-warming person in the play, believing that no human being is entirely bad and she is finally responsible for Cash’s redemption. Rare lighthearted moments were found in the comical talent of Rhodri Meilir, who plays an apparent underdog who turns into a bureaucratic opportunist. His character is the archetypical fool or trickster that changes situations and creates conflicts without realising.
Although the name of the fair suggests fun and entertainment, the atmosphere is loaded with negative energy and despair. The stage and lighting design were wonderfully crafted by Ti Green and Mike Gunning respectively and brought the audience into the world of madness of the funfair. The audio-visual effects were stunningly integrated and gave the play a nightmarish touch.
Particularly the surreal Freak Show scene in which humans with deformations are presented to a cheering audience demonstrated how disabilities and artistic expression are valued in our society. Artists and creative people are supposed to perform, but should be expected to be ridiculed and not supposed to expect proper payment for their efforts.
The finale is an explosion of built-up rage and despair. Everyone at the funfair gets involved in a fight and everyone suffers in the end. The play is a realistic yet exaggerated portrayal of an unhappy society in which people talk about revolution but don’t have the courage or energy to actually start one. Or, as a black nurse healing the injured utters in the end: “White people in this country are turning against each other like savages.”
The Funfair is running until 13 June and student tickets are available for £5