Review: Fun Home, Young Vic

As exciting as musical theatre can get – Fun Home becomes a must-see production at the Young Vic

“Caption—My dad and I were exactly alike

Caption—My dad and I were nothing alike”

It’s fitting that Fun Home should open in Pride month, not least because it is an all-too-rare show that focuses on the L in LGBT+. But as stirring and gratifying and significant as it is to have a lesbian protagonist, this musical works because it is straight-up fantastic – an unabashedly bold queering of the form that reins back any notion of excess to reveal the simple truth that beneath it all, we all hurt the same.   

Fun Home is based on Alison Bechdel’s memoir of the same name, a graphic novel musing on her experiences in coming out and later discovering her father is a closet homosexual, yearning for a deeper understanding about how he could have, maybe, possibly, taken his life while she was still a teenager. Lisa Kron’s book adopts a non-linear approach, using an adult Alison as a narrator to recall fragments of memory from her childhood and from her early university days, the bruising experience of her own life facilitating a deeper reflection. 

And it is achingly well done, Sam Gold’s production paring back layers of skin to leave exposed raw nerve, especially in Kaisa Hammarlund’s extraordinary, transformative lead performance. As the oldest Alison, she’s rarely off the stage, often a witness to the scenes playing out before her but she’s such an active listener, complex worlds of emotion playing across her face even in the space of a single song. You need to see the show at least twice just so that you can spend one of them just watching her to get the full richness of the work she’s delivering.

It helps that what she is watching is pitch-perfect too. Brooke Haynes’ Small Alison (shared with Harriet Turnbull) is a riot of 70s tomboyish attitude, railing against princess dresses and barrettes, her eyes opened in the most glorious way in the goosebumpingly-good sexuality-owning ‘Ring of Keys’. And there’s subtly excellent work from Eleanor Kane as Medium Alison, full of the awkwardness of being on the edge of coming out and then nearly overwhelmed with the emotional freedom of doing just that (‘Changing My Major’ is a real pleasure) and waiting for the world (ie her parents) to catch up.

Zubin Varla (as Katy Perry might say, ‘wig’) captures something infinitely moving in Bruce, the father who in repressing one part of himself, acts out almost in a mania through others. And there’s a welcome return back to the stage for Jenna Russell (really Eastenders, way to waste some talent) as the mother Helen, equally forced to squash down emotion until it explodes in the scorching eloquence of ‘Days and Days’.  

Gold’s sure but delicate direction harnesses all of its component parts beautifully. David Zinn’s elegantly executed design allows for shifts from the naturalistic to the liminal, and gives a properly breathtaking moment too. Ben Stanton’s sculptural lighting highlights the emotional stakes and all of the isolation that so many here are feeling. And Nigel Lilley’s musical direction of Jeanine Tesori’s formally challenging score makes strong sense of its fragmentary nature.

Bittersweetly funny, powerfully emotive and superlatively performed, Fun Home is one not to miss.

Running time: 100 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Fun Home is booking at the Young Vic until 1st September

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