Fun Home at the Young Vic
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – a genuinely canonical graphic memoir dealing with sexuality, suicide and the unhappiness of a middle-class American family – doesn’t scream Broadway. Acclaimed mini-series? Perhaps. Mid-budget Sundance darling? Certainly. But a Tony Award-winning musical classic? Hardly an obvious avenue of adaptation. Thank God, then, for Jeanine Tesori, Lisa Kron and Sam Gold, who have transformed the unlikely source material into a witty, macabre, bruising joy.
Maintaining the novel’s non-linear structure, the musical flips between Alison’s Big (Kaisa Hammarlund), Medium (Eleanor Kane) and Small (played in the press performance by Brooke Hayes), the oldest version of the artist constantly captioning her younger selves as she seeks to dig into the truth of her family. Most of that searching revolves around her father Bruce (Zubin Varla), a difficult man whose struggles with his own sexuality act as a sad mirror version of the cartoonist’s journey.
Built from the bones of his New York production, Gold’s direction subtly honours the show’s comic book origins. Gone is the in-the-round staging of the Broadway transfer, a shift that allows the director to more clearly create panels and tableaus referencing Bechdel’s text. A white wall in the middle of the narrative then leads to an expansive reveal in the second half, one that emphasises the peaks and troughs of Alison’s access to her own past.
Much like Hamilton – which the Young Vic’s production rivals – Fun Home boasts a cast that should dominate at the Oliviers. Hammarlund hammers home that the narrative is one of creation, while Kane excels in the most overtly comedic role, vacillating between wide-eyed giddiness and the acute anxiety that comes with realising your true self is one society actively shuns. Hayes is great throughout but grows and grows when performing the show’s queer anthem Ring of Keys.
Mother Helen is so often in the background, always doing, never really seen; that is until Days and Days, in which Jenna Russell releases decades of compromise. As for the superlative Zarla, he rides an intensity that alternates choking fury with a crushing hunger for that which he has been denied.
The final five songs are an absolute sledgehammer to the heart. The sublime self-discovery of Ring of Keys, the suffocating regret of Days and Days, the gut-wrench of Telephone Wire’s missed opportunity, the unravelling Edges of the World, the soaring acceptance of Flying Away. Just the most exquisite ratcheting up of the tragedy of one generation, their mistakes and fatal frustrations, mingled with the hopes of another.
And boy, the ending. It’s the preservation of one simple, quietly beautiful moment in a father-daughter relationship that was never quite what it should have been. The kind of memory you desperately cling onto, because sometimes you need to remember the person who you loved and lost free from all the complications of who they were.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Fun Home is at the Young Vic from 18th June until 1st September 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.