Review: Fun Home at Playhouse Arts Centre

Review by Stephanie Lee


Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home is a beautiful, funny, warming look into queerness and the heartbreak of sudden death. Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, the plot follows cartoonist Alison as she uncovers a series of memories relating to her father throughout both her childhood and adolescent life. The story moves between present day, college, and childhood, as Alison tries to understand her father’s sudden suicide by stepping back through and drawing her core memories of him.


The performance moves exceptionally well due probably both to the story’s jumps in time and the set, which literally rotates to completely shift the space. Alicia Clements set design perfectly encapsulates the contained nature of cartoons with each side of the rotating set representing a slice of Alison’s memory. However, the set is also incredibly dynamic with present day Alison rolling the desk with her through each memory as the scenery changes around her.


Assisting the set is Matt Scott’s lighting design, which subtly shifts with the action. Most notably the loft ‘window’ is lit with different hues to create a sense of movement in time.


Not only is the design incredibly impressive but the entire ensemble is truly captivating, filling the space with well-balanced harmonies. Lucy Maunder leads the cast as a witty, relatable Alison both cringing at and reminiscing about her past. Meanwhile, Ursula Searle portraying college-aged Alison perfectly encapsulates the charming awkwardness of a young person finding themselves and falling in love for the first time.


On opening night, we had Sophie Isaac portraying young Alison, who took to the stage with incredible force and wonderfully depicted a curious, mischievous, bold young girl. All three of the children completely won over the audience and had them clapping along during the outrageously funny, high-energy fun home commercial scene- which was the comedic highlight of the night.


It is not hard to see why Lisa Kron’s Fun Home won so many Tony Awards and had such a successful season at the Sydney Theatre Company, as the music and writing is both downright hilarious and relatable yet moving and heartbreaking. Alison’s commentary on her past is particularly compelling, allowing the audience to access her memories in a dynamic way not often seen in commercial music theatre. It is the perfect mix of awkward, real queerness, humour and family dysfunction that seamlessly balances the light with the dark. Unpacking the damage caused by Alison’s harsh, often manipulative father Bruce, the musical is really good at painting him as an unaware perpetrator of harm and allowing the audience to sympathise with his identity struggle.


Particularly poignant is the moment Alison begs her father to just ‘say something’ and finally ‘see her’ in the song Telephone Wire. The witty lyrics, well-timed pauses and raw vocals combine to perfectly display the hurt of Alison simply wanting to connect with her dad and have her queerness fully acknowledged.


On the whole, the direction by Dean Bryant, musical direction by Matthew Frank and choreography by Andrew Hallsworth work together very harmoniously to create such surprising and captivating moments. There really is not much missing in this production of Fun Home, and I doubt anyone would leave the theatre unmoved by the cast’s performance or disappointed with the production value.


Opening night finished with a standing ovation from the audience, as they leapt to their feet filled with mixed joy and sadness of the final number. Most likely it was the first of many standing ovations to come for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s cast of Fun Home as they continue their run at the Art Centre’s Playhouse.


Image Credit: Melbourne Theatre Company