Theatre Review: Fun Home, Sydney Theatre Company

Based on Alison Bechdel's graphic novel, this musical is a visually inventive and emotionally rich night at the theatre.

When you go to Fun Home, if you can tear your attention away from the stage, have a sneaky peek around you for when couples hold hands – it warms the heart and wets the eyes. The elderly couple beside you are just as likely to reach out for each other as the millennial young men in front of you during this loving, human and relatable work.

Some of the audience will get the inside jokes better than others – the socks staying on is a community favourite – but no watcher is left out of the complex themes which swirl around the events of the show. Fun Home is somewhat of a coming out story, a lesbian woman’s coming out, and as a butch, ahem, to boot. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel (yes, of the Bechdel Test) is a legend, a solace and a truth-teller in the LGBTQI+ community and she takes centre stage during this musical which is based on her graphic novel of the same name, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

The question of ‘What is masculinity?’ is the major topic explored as three Alisons remember a father who seems unknowable and investigate their own place on Adrienne Rich’s lesbian continuum. Medium Alison, the college student (Maggie McKenna) and Small Alison (Mia Honeysett on opening night) have a playfully fractured way of relating what growing up was like in that crazy Bechdel household as Alison (Lucy Maunder) watches on.

With a superlative performance from Maunder and inspired direction from Dean Bryant, Alison is always present and seeking. Even when she leans against a black wall to watch as McKenna brilliantly and hilariously falls her into first love (‘Changing my Major’) or smiles on wisely as a completely captivating Honeysett brings Alison’s first try-on of those metaphoric boots (‘Ring of Keys’). This is a peerless trio in a cast of wonderful performances.

After a warm introduction to father, Bruce (Adam Murphy) and mother, Helen (Marina Prior) there is a song with the refrain ‘He wants’, and the familial and marital tensions are evident; this is not a saccharine rendering. Towards the end of Fun Home, Prior tears at the audience’s heart with ‘Days and Days’, seated, almost still, and vibrating with a tsunami of pain. Murphy also embodies hurt in every sudden movement away from love and gives Bruce a heartbreaking repression and egotism that does, however, avoid cruelty. For while it may not be sweet, Bechdel called her original graphic novel a ‘Tragicomic’, but this is a loving work with a unique story to tell and an upbeat frame around it.

Emily Havea and Maggie McKenna in Sydney Theatre Company’s Fun Home, 2021. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Surprisingly for an award-winning musical, you may come out of Fun Home humming the pictures rather than the songs. As befits the creative instincts of our narrator, the STC design boasts superb visual storytelling. Though never static, the story is created in images and the use of the revolve is elegantly ingenious. The opening of one scene drew gasps and applause from the braver of the crowd, for its invisible stagecraft.

Musically, Carmel Dean’s orchestrations and instrumentations are equally seamless and evocative. Steel strings begin a revelatory song and by the time the orchestra has swelled, the audience is in love with a truth-teller. The traditional I-want-song is taken away from trope by an urgency of strings. And who doesn’t want their first love replete with yearning, simple, single note piano and, naturally, cello?

After a visually inventive and emotionally rich night at the theatre, as you search for tissues, Fun Home reaches out a communal hand in love and forgiveness. Don’t miss the chance to take it. 

5 stars: ★★★★★

Fun Home
An STC/MTC co-production
Director Dean Bryant
Music Director Carmel Dean
Designer Alicia Clements
Associate Designer Isabel Hudson
Lighting Designer Matt Scott
Sound System Designer Nick Walker
Choreographer Andrew Hallsworth
Associate Director Clemence Williams
With: Gilbert Bradman, Karelina Clarke, Julien Daher, Xavier Daher, Ryan Gonzalez, Emily Havea, Mia Honeysett, Katerina Kotsopoulos, Lucy Maunder, Jensen Mazza, Maggie McKenna, Adam Murphy, Marina Prior, Ben Stabile, William Wheeler.

Roslyn Packer Theatre, Walsh Bay
27 April – 29 May 2021

Judith Greenaway
About the Author
Judith grew up as a theatre brat with parents who were jobbing actors and singers. She has now retired from a lifetime of teaching and theatre work with companies small and large and spends evenings exploring the wealth of indie and professional theatre available in Sydney.