Down Whitworth Street West, behind the railway viaduct, the people in hard hats know the end is in sight. All around HOME, Manchester’s newest arts centre, a whole new place to go is being revealed, after months of being barricaded off. HOME staff – now relieved to be going around bareheaded – have been worrying about audience footfall between theatre, bar and cinema, on the stairwell, and around the box office. But now the bars and restaurant are open and they’re showing films. Theatre and visual art will soon follow. HOME, the new £25M building succeeding and combing Cornerhouse and Library Theatre is quite a big deal.
Facing the aptly-named Tony Wilson Place, on First Street, near the junction of Whitworth Street West and Albion Street, HOME is part of Manchester City Council’s latest area regeneration programme. HOME features seven auditoria: two theatres and five cinemas, an art gallery on the ground floor and a large restaurant on one of the building’s three rounded corners, dramatically cantilevered over HOME’s main entrance. The restaurant is one of several features consciously echoing the best aspects of the Cornerhouse: you can sit in there with your coffee and watch the world going by, if you want, through enormous windows. Then, when you need to go up or downstairs you do so via a central staircase that has a similar feel to the one in the old Oxford Road building, except this one’s bigger as well as being reassuringly wooden. It’s also the building’s main ventilation route, drawing air in from the entrance and feeding it up through the building’s three floors.
HOME’s architects, the Dutch firm Mecanoo, are a busy outfit: they’re currently working on plans for the new Oldham Coliseum Theatre and Heritage Centre, Manchester University’s Engineering Campus, and Hulme’s Leaf Street public housing project. Before HOME their most prestigious UK building was the Library of Birmingham, completed in 2013. Apart from making HOME feel homely, their main challenge at HOME has been soundproofing the auditoria, particularly the main 450 seat theatre, which is only a few metres away from the busy railway viaduct linking Deansgate and Oxford Road railway stations. The problem was solved by enclosing the theatre “in a box, in a box, in a box”; in other words, by building walls within walls, separating the space from the outside world with three layers of steel and concrete. Sitting inside the theatre, where on any level you are never more than ten metres away from the centre of the stage, I can honestly say I couldn’t hear any rumbling sounds from passing trains or traffic on Whitworth Street West. I’m looking forward to seeing their first theatrical production, the world premiere of The Funfair, a new version by Simon Stephens of Odo Von Horvath’s dramatic comment on economic austerity, Kasimir and Karoline, directed by Walter Meierjohann. The second theatre space, which can hold 160, is more free-form – unseated at the moment, it’s designed to be adaptable. It would be great to see this space used for performance art as well as live theatre or music.
HOME is not only committed to commissioning new work, but “cross-artform commissioning”, which means that from the outset, its film, theatre and visual art programming is intended to inter-relate, hopefully in intriguing ways. Opening HOME’s gallery space is The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things – a show inspired by that theatrical production upstairs, The Funfair. Co-curated by Sarah Perks and Omar Kholeif, it will feature work by eleven artists: Jeremy Bailey, Declan Clarke, Douglas Coupland, Irina Gheorghe, Flaka Haliti, Ragnar Kjartansson, Basim Magdy, Gemma Parker, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Jessey Tsang and Wu-Tsang, and includes six new commissions. It will also be accompanied by a film programme with work by Stanya Kahn, Rosa Barba and Phil Collins. At 400 square metres, the space for contemporary visual art is bigger than Cornerhouse’s former galleries combined, and can be divided up into sections, or its surrounding windows blocked off. Unlike Cornerhouse, its floor loading of one tonne enables HOME to install really weighty exhibits. And as it’s on the ground floor, just a couple of steps beyond the box office and bookshop, audiences should not be able to miss it.
HOME’s cinema programming also promises to continue Cornerhouse’s adventurousness, with John Maclean’s “psychedelic western” Slow West coming up soon, as well as a number of live soundtrack performances by Manchester musicians Josephine, Robin Richards, and GoGoPenguin, accompanying examples of silent, archive and artists’ films. Right now, they’re showing Carol Morley’s highly-praised feature film, The Falling. And there’s further Funfair influence on other forthcoming screenings, including Todd Browning’s legendary 1932 film, Freaks. Three of HOME’s five cinemas will be programmed “in rep”, as was the case with Cornerhouse, the other two being reserved for special events.
But for HOME to succeed – as well as Manchester City Council’s entire project to extend the city centre “beyond the Hacienda” everyone involved is aware of the need for the local and regional public to know first, that the First Street regeneration zone exists, and second, that they can get there. HOME’s chief executive, Dave Moutrey, told me the Council needed to re-route more buses in HOME’s direction – another reminder of what Cornerhouse had going for it, geographically. There’s parking space – a large multi-storey car park next door, not connected to HOME, by the way, which is trying to encourage its staff to cycle to work. And there’s the inevitable hotel and several retail outlets (brand names TBC, but not for long) to complete the picture, at Tony Wilson Place. With Castlefield Gallery only a short walk away, along Hewitt Street, you can sense a new zone coming to life in the city’s arts ecology. An aptly-named HOME-warming Weekend is lined up between Thursday May 21 and Sunday 25, featuring (on the Thursday, at 5.00pm) a “Funfare Fanfair” led by Danny Boyle, plus a carnival troupe and fireworks. It seems likely the venue will attract a HOME crowd. Farewell Oxford Road, hello HOME.
Bob Dickinson is a writer based in Manchester.
Theatre productions and art exhibitions at HOME open to the public from 14 May and 22 May respectively, with cinema screenings already running.
More information and up to date listings can be found at: www.homemcr.org