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Posts Tagged ‘David Lan’

Last Monday, I visited the Museum of Musical Theatre, seeing the lavish but dated The King & I at the London Palladium. As if the musical theatre gods were intent on contrast, on Friday I visited this fresh, original new musical at the appropriately named Young Vic, and it swept me away.

Alison Bechel writes graphic novels (illustrated rather than graphic in the explicit sense!). Fun Home, though, was a memoir about her life growing up in Pennsylvania with her parents and two brothers, going to college and coming out and the tragic loss of her dad, who unlike her had lived a lie (with his wife’s full knowledge). She acts as a narrator, with her young self and her college self on stage. We see her childhood, tomboyish, playing with her two brothers, both in fear of and in awe of her dad Bruce, who teaches and runs the family business, a Fun(eral) Home. She spends more time with her dad as her mom Helen is an actress. Her arrival in college, realisation that she’s gay and coming out are interwoven.

It’s a deeply moving portrait of a life, expertly adapted by Lisa Kron with lovely music by Jane Tesori. It’s extraordinary how much you can immerse yourself in someone’s life story in just 100 minutes. It took me a short while to get into the rhythm of the piece, but I soon became captivated. It was funny and moving and ever so real, with stylistic and set changes altering its feel and tone. It’s beautifully staged by Sam Gold, with choreography by Danny Mefford which is particularly good at conveying the young kids playfulness. David Zinn’s design constantly surprises you as it morphs, not just to change location, but also to reflect changes in the story.

An unrecognisable Kaisa Hammerland plays Alison looking back, newcomer Eleanor Kane college Alison and, on the night I went, Harriett Turnbull young Alison and all three were terrific; you could really believe they were the same person at different stages of their life. In my head, Zubin Varla is still the RSC’s Romeo – where did all those years go! – but here he’s a middle-aged dad, a very complex character which he plays brilliantly. Helen the mother is by contrast a relatively underwritten part, as the real Helen seems to have been in Alison’s life, but she’s played by Jenna Russell, who can make something wonderful from just about anything.

David Lan’s final four years at the Young Vic have been extraordinary, with A Streetcar Named Desire, A View From the Bridge, Yerma, The Jungle, The Inheritance and surely this going on to continue their lives elsewhere, to be seen by more people. Another thrilling evening in The Cut.

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The combination of in-the-round staging and heavy accents means you take a while to atune to this play. Even when you do, it’s hard to maintain concentration because it’s very slow, partricularly in the first act, in developing characters and story; I often found my mind wandering.

Based on the audience’s enthusiastic reaction, I’m prepared to accept that my lack of engagement with it might be more about me than the play or the production. I didn’t find it particularly illuminating about the black American experience in 1911. What it says about the recovery from slavery, identity and spirituality seemed to me to have insufficient substance or depth and was frankly confusing. I’ve got a lot more out of the other August Wilson plays I’ve seen.

What isn’t in question though is a fine set of performances, particularly from Danny Sapani, Delroy Lindo, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Nathanial Martello-White. I felt the female roles were too underwritten to alow the actresses to shine in the same way as the men did.

Notwithstanding the audibility issues, David Lan’s staging was very effective, though I’m not really sure why we all had to have our feet firmly implanted in the sand / soil that pervades the seating areas as well as the performance area of Patrick Burnier’s design.

For me it was another case of good production – disappointing play, but it’s fair to say my companion and I were in a distinct minority on the night.

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