Manchester theatre's newest character: Walter Meierjohann joins HOME

Kevin Bourke

As Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company prep for the opening of HOME, we speak to its incoming artistic director.

Early next month, Walter Meierjohann arrives in Manchester direct from directing Salieri’s opera Falstaff in Munich to become artistic director of theatre for HOME, the new organisation formed from the merger of Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre Company. When he does, its controversial name (come on, do you know anyone who likes it?) isn’t the only challenge he faces. But, like Executive Director Dave Moutrey, he insists he’s determined to help create “something that simply doesn’t exist anywhere else, somewhere where there’s equality across the art forms, something that’s of Manchester but international.”

Meierjohann, currently an associate artist at the Young Vic in London, believes that “new things can only happen if you create the infrastructure for it, which Manchester is willing to do. In these hard financial times that’s not easy, and I’m very impressed that they’re willing to take that leap. I’m particularly excited that everything is going to be new in this new building. Physically entering a new space means that everyone will be starting from scratch. Yet at the same time, you have these two well-loved Manchester institutions to build from, from which to create something that’s revolutionary, a cross art-fusion across three different art forms.”

I want to create something that doesn’t exist anywhere else, that’s of Manchester but international

Of course, three decades ago the opening of Cornerhouse itself was a hugely significant development in the arts in this country, while the Library Theatre Company has a genuinely resonant history in quality theatre. But HOME isn’t in the heritage game. “We want to speak to Manchester audiences, of course, but we also want to collaborate with international groups, as I’ve done somewhat with the Young Vic,” says Meierjohann.

“Manchester is a very open city and the Manchester International Festival is a good example of the sort of long-term international collaboration and co-production we’ll be exploring. We want HOME to be a home for people from abroad as well.” One specific aim, he says, “is to address getting a younger audience into the theatre. So we’ll be looking at material and plays that speak to that audience.” In a lot of his own work, Meierjohann acknowledges, he “strives to create a striking visual experience and young people tend to have more of an affinity with cinema, which does have a certain ‘cool’ factor. So you have something there already.”

Walter Meierjohann has established an outstanding international reputation for productions including Kafka’s Monkey, with Kathryn Hunter, which has since embarked on a worldwide tour (it’s about to open in New York); the acclaimed Unleashed at the Barbican, which was inspired by the 2011 riots; and The Ballad of the Sad Café, which opens at the Residenztheater in Munich this year. Earlier in his career, Dutch-born Meierjohann worked with the Dresden State Theatre and founded an international new writing theatre there, achieving its best audience figures of the last 15 years with his direction of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Once HOME opens in 2014, Meierjohann predicts “six or seven theatre productions a year and I’d hope to direct at least two of those, maybe three. There are some site-specific projects I think could be fantastic too. But it shouldn’t just be my handwriting – the audience should be constantly surprised. We all share a belief that theatre needs to get out there, so we’ll be tapping into the city in order to present theatre in a different way.” And, says Meierjohann, “I hope we can seduce our audiences.”

Find out what else is happening at Cornerhouse and it’s new arts centre: read our guide to HOME.

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