Review: Fun Home

by Daniel Hill

Fun Home is an American musical based on the tragicomedy of the same name which tells the true story of Alison Bechdel’s early life and her relationship with her father. Told through the eyes of the older Alison, she discovers that perhaps she had more similarities with her father than she knew at the time as she explores two periods of her early life. The production is directed by Sam Gold who directed the original Broadway production which won 5 Tony Awards including Best New Musical. This production at the Young Vic stars Kaisa Hammarlund as Alison, Jenna Russell as Helen (Alison’s Mother) and Zubin Varla as her father, Bruce. The Young Vic was set up in a proscenium stage for this production.

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron wrote Music and Book & Lyrics respectively. The music is very good and really allows the show to flow between the three generations that we see on stage together. This seamless connection between the three ages could have easily been very complicated but the combination of script, music and direction is done really well. As it is adapted from the graphic novel, this remains a focus throughout with the musical almost forming the journey Alison went through when trying to discover how to begin her comic. This makes it quite a gripping, moving and comical show on the Young Vic stage. Although the music is written very well, it is taken to new heights due to the powerful delivery from the cast.

As the tragicomic remains a focus it is also used by the technical team. The set itself includes a replica of the writing desk of Alison Bechdel and this allows the comic to remain a physical presence on stage throughout in combination with mentally. The set is used by the cast as they are often used to move the set around the stage in order to set up the living room of Alison’s childhood home. The reveal towards the end of the second act in which we are suddenly shown how Bruce has become so obsessed with this space and developing it he has almost forgotten his family, is overwhelming however doesn’t quite seem necessary and is somewhat used as a distraction from the play which is in places effective due to the simplicity. The projection used towards the end is also very effective in portraying this understanding that has been found during this journey we have followed.

The cast is very strong. Although the cast is quite small at 9, it definitely does not lack anything. The three children provide an injection of energy part way through the show as they begin to ‘record’ an advert for their family business; The Bechdel Funeral Home. Although perhaps coming across slightly too operatic and therefore aggressive to start off with, I thought Zubin Varla was mainly strong in his role, however I felt his accent was somewhat shaky in moments. Kaisa Hammarlund rendition of Maps was elegant and really added to her strong performance. However, I thought that it was Jenna Russell who stole the show with her mesmerising yet simple performance of Days and Days. Although a smaller role, I thought she really made this count and stood out.

This production was a good version of a good musical directed in a mainly effective way. Although I do not expect it to go much further than the Young Vic in London, it is a very good piece of theatre and obviously was extremely successful on the Broadway stage. A nice start to the summer and I am sure I will continue to listen to the music for years to come.