Meet the cast of acclaimed musical Fun Home coming to Dublin's Gate Theatre

GCN sat down with the cast of the new production of Fun Home, the musical based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.

The photograph shows a rehearsal for Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. In the foreground of the image is actor Frances McNamee, who plays older Alison and in the background is Orla Scally who plays middle Alison. Frances has cropped hair and is wearing glasses. She has her hand placed to her chest with a quizzical expression.
Image: Ros Kavanagh

Fun Home, an acclaimed musical adaptation of the iconic graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, will debut soon at Dublin’s Gate Theatre. GCN’s contributor Letícia Barbosa got the lowdown from the creative team behind a riveting true story of coming out and long-hidden family secrets.

Alison Bechdel’s beloved and award-winning graphic novel has seen its acclaim replicated in its iteration as a stage musical, earning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Now, the latest production, directed by Róisín McBrinn, debuts at the Gate Theatre in July, 2023.

This means Irish audiences will get to meet the queer protagonist in both past and present forms – as a child growing up in the family’s funeral home, as a college student discovering her sexuality, and as a successful author.

I had the opportunity to talk with four of the cast members on a range of topics, from the importance of having the support of loved ones, to their favourite songs on the soundtrack.

Frances McNamee and Orla Scally play Alison at different stages in her life, Jade Kennedy plays Alison’s first girlfriend, Joan, while Killian Donnelly plays Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father and a complicated figure in his own right.

Fun Home recounts Alison Bechdel’s childhood throughout coming out and her father’s tragedy. How was the journey to bring such a deep and personal story to life?

Frances: It’s a true story based on someone’s actual life, so it feels like maybe a greater sense of responsibility to do it justice… It’s such a beautiful story, and it obviously meant a lot to Alison Bechdel. It came at a point in her life where it was important to write in order to move forward in a positive way. It feels like a momentous story that I’m very honoured to be a part of bringing to life.

Orla: It’s really useful to have her book and even her photographs there, because the book and the musical are so intertwined and close together. I think Alison as a person is very exact, and wants things to be truthful. So, to have that, for us as actors, is very useful as well.

How is it having multiple Alisons on stage, while also making sure each of their storylines don’t blur?

Killian: Because I work with all three different Alisons, I approached this at the start going: Okay, I’ll speak to ‘young’ Alison how I would speak to an 11 year-old, then ‘medium’ Alison, and then ‘older’ Alison. But the truth is: just treat them all the same way. Because the young girls playing the ‘young’ Alison, they’re twice the actor I’ll ever be. And they’re just bringing so much to the character.

From an audience perspective, there are some amazing moments where you can see all three Alisons in three different timelines at the same moment on stage, and it’s quite powerful. It’s emotionally powerful that you’re actually seeing this one girl at three different times.

Orla: ‘Older’ Alison’s memory is there as a device, and during the show, it’s like a gorgeous weaving between these scenes. Because that’s kind of the way memory works: one thing sparks one memory, and then another sparks another memory. It’s constantly flowing.

Frances: I think the director, Róisín, did the casting really well, and because it’s all there in the script, we don’t really get in the way of each of those processes. So a lot of the work is done for us. But we try to be as respectful to one another as possible, as truthful to the story as possible. And I love watching Orla because it’s helpful to have a younger version of yourself to work in tandem with – to pick up mannerisms and to make sure that the consistency of personality and physicality is there. To make it believable for the audience that I am an older version of them all. That’s challenging, but satisfying.

Killian, how does it feel to play a character like Bruce, who hides and suppresses so much of his identity?

Killian: As Frances said at the start, when you get given a character that actually existed, it’s full of excitement and jubilation. You tell all your friends and family, and they’re so happy for you. But then, when you open the script, it’s quite challenging. You want to do a good and respectful job, this person actually existed… It’s interesting because it’s a musical we’re performing, and a lot of people can think of musicals as top hats and tails. But some of the best musicals in the world, the music fuels the narrative – it guides the audience and fuels the moment.

We see the journey of Alison discovering her sexuality and eventually coming out. Did any of you draw from your own experiences when preparing for the role?

Killian: You know what, I have three people in my life who can relate to Bruce. These people are probably in their 60’s and 70’s, but still haven’t come out. However, they have come out to me because I’m involved in musical theatre… So, there are some Bruce Bechdels that I’ve met in my real life, and I’m encouraging them to come and see the show. I hope they do. I’m not telling them what it’s about, but I hope they see representation on the stage. Something like that, I think, is very important for a lot of people.

Fun Home is about a journey of self-discovery for Alison. What do you think people going through this experience right now can take from the show?

Jade: I feel like I get to experience a lot of that observation playing Alison’s girlfriend because she discovers a lot of herself with my character alongside, which is such a joy to explore. I can relate to certain things, but I think that one of the most beautiful things I hope people will take away is to fully embrace yourself in the way you see fit. I think there’s something we can all relate to in just remembering our child selves and honouring our child selves and loving and caring for our child selves. I think there’s something in just connecting to your truth and living your truth in whatever capacity you can.

Jade, as the story unfolds, it’s clear how important Joan’s influence is in Alison’s journey to accept her queerness. What has playing Joan taught you about the importance of having a support system in moments like that?

Jade: Just watching both characters blossom together is something really beautiful. Because even Joan, as someone who is so sure, so strong – she’s already been on this journey of discovery – she still learns a lot from Alison. There’s still something so tender between the two of them, which is always so heart-warming to see between two people. I think that Joan shows you that you can always find people to be yourself around, and that’s important.

What is your favourite song from the soundtrack, and why? 

Frances: There are songs like ‘Raincoat of Love’, which we’ve been rehearsing with our brilliant child cast this week. They’re all amazing. They pick up everything so quickly. They put us to shame. And then, ‘Come to the Fun Home’ as well; they capture the joy that was also in Alison’s childhood and the more troubling stuff, and I think they balance out the show well.

Orla: ‘Ring Of Keys’ is an absolute banger of a song, a beautiful song that the smallest Alison sings when she sees a woman who she’s like: “That is me!” and I think that feeling is so universal – that moment of identity. I hope that’s something that audiences can connect with.

Killian: ‘Edges Of The World’, which is Bruce’s song. There’s one lyric that basically completely sums up the character: “Getting older and it’s harder when you’re older to begin.” This just sums up Bruce perfectly, where he’s going through everything he’s gone through in the entire play in one song.

Jade: It may be cliche, but my favourite is probably ‘Changing My Major’. I remember singing that song for the first time and finally feeling like there was a song that I understood. It’s a brilliant documentation of that moment for so many queer people where you feel that you’ve broken through a door and you’re on the other side, and it’s bright colours, and it’s exciting and terrifying, but you just know you’ve gone through something, and you’re slightly different in a good way. I think it’s fantastic.

Last but not least, what does Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home represent to you personally?

Orla: The bravery to be your true self.
Frances: It means to me reckoning with your past so that you can move forward into your future.
Killian: For me, the lengths you will go to to protect your family.
Jade: Accepting where you’ve been to accept where you may go.

Fun Home, the musical adaptation of the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, runs in The Gate Theatre from July 1 to August 26. Visit to book tickets.

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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