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Fun Home: Young Vic Theatre

July 18, 2018

(seen at the afternoon performance on 7th July 2018)

With “Caroline Or Change” so recently in mind, I found myself thinking just minutes into this production that it was similar. No surprise, as Jeanine Tesori is the composer.

This time, with Lisa Kron, the story is a few years later, but still very much about family and a child’s formative years.

Alison Bechdel – yes, the cartoonist and creator of the “Bechdel Test” calibrating female involvement in movies – once produced an autobiographical graphic novel about her young life. Two siblings, teacher parents who doubled as morticians and antique home restorers, and a lot of messages about sexuality and identity.

Played without an interval, adult Alison (Kaisa Hammarlund) looks on as she interacts with the world as a child and later University student, drawing (literally) her conclusions and captioning them as she does so.

From the opening as Small Alison (sadly, can’t credit – did ask the Young Vic press office for assistance two weeks ago, but holiday leave meant no reply to date – kind blog reader Robin suggests Harriet Turnbull) begs her father (Zubin Varla) to help her take flight, through encounters with Joan (Cherrelle Skeete) to an ending where we see life narrow, open, twist, close (David Zinn’s set and costumes, Ben Stanton’s light, Jai Harada’s sound all magical) each moment is pared down, and symbolic.

It can be taken many ways. The simplicity of theatrical lines in the same way as ink ones are created. Illustrations hanging together to make points, or simply rather self-indulgent pretention?

Like the best art, it’s very much “in the eye of the beholder.” For me, the layers became a fascinating exploration of a life. The only criticism being that though the musical is fully-formed, the “sucker punch” to drive home the message isn’t quite as interesting as what goes before. Perhaps that’s intentional, and the moving of the audience heart and soul is deliberately inches rather than accustomed jerk.

Still, there’s plenty to admire. Music and lyric are sound, if not entirely committed to memory on first acquaintance, the cast CD is a required purchase after. The performances are particularly strong. The already mentioned Varla and Skeete are charismatic influences on young lives – Skeete on Medium Alison (Eleanor Kane) a particularly successful pairing as they manage awakening without either overshadowing or making predictable the sheer exuberation of it.

Jenna Russell as Alison’s mother, Helen, has little to do by normal Russell standards, but also by normal Russell standards it’s noticeable – her confusion in a telephone conversation understated and genuine. Ashley Samuels plays a multitude of small roles with success, and Alison’s child siblings John and Christian do well, combined with their sister to produce a lovely show-stopper as a trio.

That this made Broadway is no surprise. It’s the kind of open psychology that characterises America. There’s a lot of credit to the Young Vic for taking something somewhat alien to the British emotional mind even now, and taking the chance that it will land.

If willing to accept that the sophistication is in the creativity as much as the story itself, there’s plenty to reward self-examining your response long after the curtain falls.

 

5 stars.

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