Welcome to the Fun Home – The Gate Theatre’s musical production of the beloved graphic novel depicting the life of Alison Bechdel. Before we get into the review, it can’t be overestimated how powerful it is to see queer lives portrayed on a main theatre stage when so many times LGBTQ+ characters are mere footnotes to stories, if mentioned at all. It also doesn’t hurt that the show is absolutely fantastic.
Fun Home sees Alison look back on her coming out journey in tandem with the complicated relationship she had with her father, Bruce. For many years, Bechdel tried to hide her lesbian identity from her family as well as herself. The irony is, her father Bruce was a closeted gay man trying to do the same.
In adapting Fun Home for the stage, writer Lisa Kron uses the conceit of Bechdel creating the graphic novel and searching her memory for moments she wants to capture. This means we see Bechdel as a child discovering her identity and as an awkward college student coming into her own. At certain moments, all three versions of Alison share the stage to stunning effect.
While it is easy to warm to Alison, the creators deliberately tread a fine line in their depiction of Bruce Bechdel. And in a touch of magic, they get it spot on. Bruce is a difficult character. For most of the play, he is quite unpleasant, with many questionable actions. Yet, watching the tale play out on stage, he is also sympathetic. You feel for him while at the same time realising how much he hurt others.
All of the above would not be possible without impeccable casting. Across the board, the performances are world-class. Frances McNamee as Grown Alison, Orla Scally as Teenage Alison, and Chloe Cody and Jodi Kaye who share the role of Small Alison, are stunning. As a fan of the graphic novel, for me, Killian Donnelly plays Bruce as if he walked straight out of its pages.
The younger performers playing Alison’s brothers, as well as supporting performers, Jade Kennedy and Riain Cash, all find moments to shine. Special mention, however, must go to Nichola MacEvilly who proves to be the show’s secret weapon as Helen Bechdel, Alison’s mother. During her performance of the solo number, Days and Days, the theatre seemed to hold its breath. Just heartbreaking.
If the description makes the show seem heavy, it can be at times, but it’s also hilarious and touching, and empowering. Yes, admittedly, you’re more than likely going to shed a tear or two, but they are well-earned. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this production, every element is faultless. Director Roisin McBrinn has played a blinder in shaping one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at The Gate.
This is very very special. You can’t miss Fun Home at the Gate Theatre. Get your tickets here.
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