Fun Home - The Musical Making Queer History
London’s Young Vic theatre is the home of many progressive and inspiring productions. Classic plays are shown there but normally adapted for a young, modern audience - a jazz and R&B musical adaptation of Shakespeare's ‘Twelfth Night’, for example, is showing this winter. There’s an LGBTQ+ flag hanging outside as well as a ‘Black Lives Matter’ flag, and this isn’t the place for offensive, stuffy, or backward thinking productions.
These factors make it the perfect place to host the Tony award-winning musical adaption of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel (or “family tragicomic” as she calls it), ‘Fun Home’. Bechdel was originally known for her ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ comics, which I bought at the age of 18 and hid behind the rest of my more ‘suitable’ books. She is also known for creating the Bechdel test, which asks if there are at least two (ideally named) women who talk to each other about something other than a man in works of fiction.
She’s a massive inspiration to me and as soon as I heard a musical adaptation of ‘Fun Home’ was coming to Young Vic I raced over to Gay’s The Word bookshop to buy a fresh copy, binge read it all, and then bought tickets.
Months later, when it finally came to seeing it, I was so excited as I hadn’t heard any of the songs and had no idea how the graphic novel would translate into a musical. ‘Fun Home’ is all about *SPOILER ALERT* Bechdel’s coming of age/ coming out and first relationship, as well as her relationship with her secretly queer mortician father, who has relationships with underage men and eventually commits suicide - not exactly the stuff of standard sing-song.
But it worked, and that’s an understatement.
The story is beautifully told, with present-day Alison writing her graphic novel, and recalling stories of her life played out by ‘Small Alison’ and ‘Medium Alison’. Present-day Alison prefaces these moments with the word “caption”, which wonderfully ties in the fact that all the material has come from a graphic novel. The story isn’t chronological, but craftily arranged in a perfect and gripping order. The songs range from heart-warming (such as ‘Telephone Wire’) to laugh-out-loud genius (‘Changing My Major’ has to be one of my favourite funny musical songs ever).
‘Fun Home’ somehow managed to have the perfect ratio of being both moving AND hilarious. I kept finding myself thinking how great it would’ve been for young, struggling, teenage me to have seen such a touching and honest musical based around queer lives. I really hope lots of questioning or struggling young adults get the chance to see the musical, because queer representation is so important for anxieties and self-esteem issues when coming to terms with sexuality. Shockingly, despite the fact that my calendar seems to say it’s 2018, ‘Fun Home’ makes history by featuring the first lesbian protagonist in any musical shown in London. This was also the case when it was first shown in New York, and there haven’t been any new lesbian protagonists in a musical since. I had never even really considered the fact that even though I’m a massive musical fan, I have never been able to relate to any main character, and most lesbian roles in musicals are relatively comic, stereotypes, and frivolous.
I hope that the success of Fun Home inspires other writers to create queer protagonists, be it in books, films, plays, or musicals. It’s easy to forget how accustomed we are to straight characters, and after seeing such an amazing musical I’m craving more and more powerful queer stories that maybe already exist but haven’t been shared and told yet. Until that happens, I guess it’s time to watch The L Word for the 5th time through...
Article by Laura Hely Hutchinson
Social Media Marketing Executive and Freelance Writer