By Kiana Emmett
Moments are transient, memories are at times unreliable, though once a person is gone, grappling at those moments are all you have left.
In the Melbourne Theatre Company’s vibrant production of Fun Home, cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s journey to find truth and clarity about her father’s death leaves her spiralling into her upbringing, reliving both light and shade through her Little and Medium Alison counterparts. Based on Bechdel’s graphic memoir, with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and sweeping score by Jeanine Tesori, Fun Home made history with the first female writing team to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Its appeal translates to Australian stages, with its universal themes of family, loss and identity making a heartfelt production.
The sharp, meticulously executed direction by David Bryant brings out the humour and heartbreak of the source material, and ‘Come to the Fun Home’ was a crowd favourite, with the performances of the younger cast garnering praise and applause. ‘Ring of Keys’ specifically was performed with pinpoint precision, excellently depicting an innocence and a knowledge far beyond her years.
Ursula Searle as Medium Alison was near perfection. Her portrayal was raw and vulnerable, awkward and uncomfortable and uplifting, it was exactly what life should be. She put her whole life force into the character and the result was a depth and immensity that was a joy to watch.
Alicia Clements’ set design is spectacular, and the use of the roundtable stage was especially poignant, representing the cycle of life and death, and how the two are inextricably linked.
Musical Director Carmel Dean presents vocals and a 7-piece orchestra that ebbs and flows and feels as alive and present as those on stage. It always feels as though the music is a manifestation of character wants and needs, instead of being for the sake of song- the sign of a great musical.
The standouts of the production however were parents Bruce and Helen Bechdel (played by Adam Murphy and Silvie Paladino respectively). They brought depth and complexity to their characters. Paladino’s ‘Days and Days’ was soul crushing and exquisite. Her electric presence and energy on stage spills out into the audience and touches anyone lucky enough to be in the presence of her performance. Murphy’s portrayal is a triumph, the complexity and subtlety of his performance of which treads the line between his responsibilities as a parent and his duty to be true to himself as an individual. This often manifests itself in angry outbursts taken out on those around him, which would be more truly directed to the world he lives in. He longs for the opportunity to be as open and forthright with his identity as his daughter is.
Euan Fitstrovic-Doidge’s vocal prowess is on full display with ‘Raincoat of Love’, as was his versatility, as he slid through characters effortlessly throughout the piece.
The candid, conversational tone that Alison (Lucy Maunder) brings to the show provides relief from the larger, more complex issues taking part in non-linear vignettes. She is understated at first, before finding herself falling into her memories, which makes her shift into ‘Telephone Wire’ (where gay father and daughter long to connect over their similarities, instead of divide themselves in their differences) all the more heartbreaking and beautiful. This transformation at the end of the show, where we’ve seen Alison grow, mature and find herself, from the little girl who didn’t want to wear a dress, and sees herself in the butch delivery woman she encounters in a diner, To an overexcited college student who is exploring her sexuality with Joan (excellently portrayed by Emily Havea, who brings sultry and supportive tones), to the mature woman who leads us through the show, grappling with the death of her father is brilliantly executed and thoroughly engaging.
Fun Home is a celebration of self-discovery, family and love, with the joy of discovery, ecstasy of love, and the crushing pain of loss. It is an invitation to view the impact of not living authentically as oneself can have on a person and their loved ones. Fun Home is a ground-breaking triumph. You must see it.
Fun Home is playing at the Art Centre Playhouse through March 5th. Tickets can be booked at: https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/whats-on/season-2022/fun-home/