top of page
  • Chris O'Rourke

Fun Home: The Musical

Fun Home: The Musical at The Gate Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh


They say insanity is repeating the same actions and hoping for a different outcome. Like The Gate, doubling down on two musicals in the same year. Especially as the lacklustre Piaf rocked few worlds. Now, the multi-Tony award winning tragicomedy, Fun Home takes to The Gate stage and some are feeling worried. Firstly, it’s an American musical, and a gay themed one at that. Which, like the Eurovision, usually only appeals to ultra-gays and people with a fetish for sing-a-long-a cuteness. Musicals being to theatre what drowning an expensive whiskey in ice cubes is to a good drink; a dressed up cocktail in which all the good stuff is diluted to death. Leaving only a saccharinely sweet sentimentality that sticks to you like candy floss.

Fun Home: The Musical at The Gate Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

So far, so bad. Especially if you’re inclined to accept the above as Fun Home initially supports it. Opening like The Brady Bunch Musical, a Norman Rockwell American family set about living happily ever after in their happy home. Mom, Helen, a superb Nicola MacEvilly, is a paragon of motherhood juggling career and family. Dad, Bruce, a terrific Killian Donnelly, is a school teaching, house restoring, undertaker. His two rascal boys, John and Christian (Trystan Rhys Bruen, Séan O’Callaghan, Ethan O’Connor and Harley Cullen Walsh alternating), are recklessly mischievous. As is tomboy daughter, Alison (Chloe Cody and Jodi Kaye alternating), the apple of her Daddy’s judgemental eye. She who reads all the right books that Daddy recommends. Soaring above the Pennsylvania sky on Daddy’s legs, like Superman. Life appearing perfectly, sickly sweet. But then, that’s the point. It’s all appearances, and about maintaining appearances. Beyond which unspoken truths lie.

Fun Home: The Musical at The Gate Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

Based on Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel from 2006, Fun Home is a masterclass in subversion. Even the title has a hidden association, with death playing a significant role as events unfold. In which Alison’s mid-life crisis sees her older self (a sterling Francis McNamee) stuck in the present and unable to move forward due to an unresolved past. Jeanine Tesori’s score and Lisa Kron’s book and lyrics, (the show originally opening off Broadway in 2013), sensitively allowing Alison and Bruce's story to unfurl as Alison revisits her childhood and college years exploring the closeted secret that tortured her father. Lyrics frequently functioning like dialogue and asking difficult questions, even as key lyric lines become recurring motifs revealing deeper, hidden associations. Even so, there’s still some cracking, show-stopping numbers. Helen’s heartbreaking Days and Days rendered with fractured grief by a superb MacEvilly. Ring of Keys with which Jodi Kaye on opening night as the younger Alison stole everyone’s heart. A superb Orla Scally as college Alison, finally accepting her sexuality, delivering the gorgeously, cringe inducing Changing My Major to her sleeping lover Joan, a compelling Jade Kennedy. A show-tune sure to become a staple at Marie’s Crisis. A song whose embarrassment of embarrassing riches reminds you that Fun Home might be a gay tale, but it’s a universal story.

Fun Home: The Musical at The Gate Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

And there’s the rub. Director Róisín McBrinn might paint in thick, broad strokes like a drag queen's make-up, but she knows the genre she’s dealing with and how to balance its needs with the riches inherent in the text. Ensuring Fun Home is not candy floss. Well, it is an American musical so there’s always a little floating about. But, in truth, Fun Home is a subversive, multi-layered, ever deepening story told with skill and finesse. In a production whose technical prowess is superlative; Paul Wills evocative set design, including a clever balcony to include live musicians; Lara Campbell’s timeless yet time bound costumes; Sinéad McKenna’s suggestive lights married to Jason Fallon and Jody Trey’s superb sound. The whole converging as a subtle spectacle. A crazy cacophony of cartoonish colour. A production doing what theatre often claims to do. Namely, making space for other voices to tell their stories so our shared humanity can be brought to the fore. Aspiring to create a transformative theatrical experience. One revealing secrets hidden in plain sight. Saying the unsayable. Striving to tackle the intolerable pain of sexual intolerance with its malicious, soul destroying, self-hatred.

Fun Home: The Musical at The Gate Theatre. Image Ros Kavanagh

Throughout, Alison’s work as a cartoonist cleverly emphasises art as a way of giving shape to who and what we are. Helping us to heal, to hear, to articulate. With Fun Home, McBrinn proves there’s a difference between insanity and sticking to your guns. Remaining true to The Gate’s impeccable standards, Fun Home aims, despite some who will kick and scream, to embrace the twenty-first century. True, there’s questions to be asked about theatre's current preponderance with music and musical theatre. Still, if you’re going to engage, Fun Home is how it should be done. A brave, brilliant, joyous production.

Fun Home: The Musical, music by Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, runs at The Gate Theatre till August 26.

For more information visit The Gate Theatre


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
bottom of page