“Perhaps Too Polished A Fun Home”
Reviewer: Myle Yan Tay
Performance: 8 October 2017
Bruce and his daughter, Small Alison, are sitting at a diner. When a handsome delivery woman walks in, Small Alison, as played by Chloe Choo at this reviewer’s performance, breaks into an emotive song (“Ring of Keys”), discovering her sexuality. It is a moving moment, and when the song ends, the audience breaks into applause. Bruce, as played by Adrian Pang, and his daughter stare at each other during a pregnant pause. They are then inexplicably bathed in a red light before what feels like the 30th blackout.
Pangdemonium closes their 2017 season with Fun Home, a musical adaptation of the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. Though it plays like a well-made piece of theatre, it often feels sterile. It picks itself up near the end, redeeming much of its run-time, but it never quite soars.
The set is an incredibly intricate display. Moving platforms on multiple levels shift in and out, conveying college dormitories, car seats, the back-room of a funeral parlour, and more. The plethora of squares and right angles in the design is reminiscent of a page in a graphic novel, providing a dynamic backdrop to Alison’s reconstructed history.
However, this is all hindered by a heavy-handed approach to the scenes.
Many scenes feel as if they are being wrung dry, squeezing out all potential emotional impact. When a moment lands, it is extended until it feels like a hammer smashing in a sunken nail. Big Alison, as played by Nikki Muller, acts as the narrator, commenting on her story. Though delivered with sincerity, the abrupt lighting to signal something significant is going to be said makes these moments melodramatic rather than authentic.
Largely, the lighting feels too in-your-face, and rather than elevating the production, it imposes itself heavily on the scenes. Scenes often feel overplayed when they could be intimate. Blackouts close out almost every other scene, constantly pulling the audience out of the illusions. The musical becomes too segmented which is highly problematic especially since Fun Home is built around stitching together a life and a relationship across decades.
Some songs are fantastic to watch and hear, such as the aforementioned “Ring of Keys” and “Changing My Major”, both filled with energy. When Alison steps out of the role of narrator and performs “Telephone Wire”, it is sincere and brimming with emotion. The songs after “Telephone Wire” (“Edges of the World” & “Flying Away”) are stellar, and bring the musical to a memorable close. But it only feels like the musical really comes together in these final scenes.
Fun Home works when the performers carry the emotional weight without any blunt signalling from other theatrical elements. When it does not work, it feels leaden and overwrought. Fun Home has an important message at its core and tells a vital story, especially in our conservative context. Yet, this message could have more impact if the musical coaxes that the audience to enter into its world rather than trying to clamber for their attention and focus.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
FUN HOME by Pangdemonium
29 September – 15 October 2017
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yan is currently studying in Yale-NUS College, where he enjoys spending his free time in far too many productions. Having tried acting, writing, and directing for the stage, Yan looks forward to reviewing. He believes that theatre should challenge both the audience and creators.