Fiddler on the Roof – review

This review first appeared in British Theatre Guide

Curve Young Company and Community present
Fiddler on the Roof
Book by Joseph Stein based on the Sholem Aleichem Stories, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Sarah Ingram
Curve Theatre, Leicester

A lone fiddler on the roof plays Tevye the Milkman on stage, forced into dragging his milk cart thanks to his de-shoed horse and chastising God for his bad timing, causing problems just before the Sabbath. Through the rousing opening number “Tradition”, we are introduced to the villagers of Anatevka, one of the few Shtetl areas permitted within Imperial Russia at a time of violent pogroms, antisemitic tensions and the forced eviction of entire village populations.

Weary Tevye (Bill Hinds) yearns for a simple life, but with five daughters, a formidable wife, and an unreliable horse, he struggles on, guided by his faith both in God and tradition.  Hinds settles in to his role, his bittersweet remonstrations with God and his wife Golde (Debbie Longley) providing much of the gentle comedy. You don’t need to be Jewish to recognise and empathise with the tribulations of family life, getting by day to day and coping with adversity.

Tevye’s faith in tradition is tested by his three elder daughters, all spurning the services of Yente the Matchmaker (Suzanne Barlow) to marry for love. Tzeitl (Lauren Russell) wishes to marry poor tailor Motel (James Cottis) rather than the match of older, wealthier butcher Lazar Wolf (Ken Huggett). Hodel (Hannah Willars) leaves home to be with the passionate revolutionary Perchik (Matthew Deane) and Chava (Rose Caldwell) breaks her father’s heart as she elopes with Russian soldier Fyedka (Luke Pillai). The actors playing Tevye’s daughters and their respective husbands perform with strength and conviction and provide the emotional heart of this story.

The big numbers—particularly Tevye’s wlidly surreal dream scene and Tzeitl and Motel’s wedding—are enjoyably exuberant, with Melanie Knott reproducing much of Jerome Robbins’s distinctive choreography from the original production.

Reflecting the lives of a poor Jewish community, Fiddler on the Roof has been one of theatre’s most popular and profitable musicals. Since its first performance in 1964 on Broadway, it was the first show to run for more than 3,000 performances, winning nine Tony awards, a successful film adaptation in 1971 and umpteen revivals and tours worldwide. There’s not a weak song in this impressive musical and Stein, Bock and Sheldon’s book, score and lyrics are classics for good reason.

Director Sarah Ingram has done an impressive job guiding a 100-strong company (through Curve’s Young Company and Community brands) with this production part of Curve’s 10th anniversary celebrations. She successfully creates a strong sense of community, from the performers themselves to Al Parkinson’s rickety, raked set of tightly packed family units. Yes, some performances are a little rough around the edges, however, this is a production which should be applauded for achieving its objectives of commitment to performance and community inclusion.

Although set in 1905, this is very much a story of our time, of any time. Today, anti-Semitism rumbles on in the headlines and, on a wider level, 2018 marks a new post-World War II record of 60 million displaced people throughout the world (according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees).

Fiddler on the Roof could represent many communities around the world today, clinging to their way of life and traditions but with change and turmoil thrust upon them.

Images by Pamela Raith

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