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Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier Chocolate Factory | Review

Andy Nyman (Tevye) image by Johan Persson.
Andy Nyman (Tevye) image by Johan Persson.

As we get to the end of another year of reviewing, my mind has turned to the traditional list of my top ten shows for 2018. It was pretty much settled until last night when a visit to the Menier Chocolate Factory to see the new production of Fiddler on The Roof has caused a rethink in the rankings.

It is 1905 and in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka, Tevye (Andy Nyman) a farmer lives with his wife Golde (Judy Kuhn) and his five daughters Tzeitel (Molly Osborne ), Hodel (Harriet Bunton), Chava (Kirsty MacLaren ), Shprintze (Lia Cohen/Shoshana Ezequiel/Valentina Theodoulou) and Bielke (Sofia Bennett/Lottie Casserley/Matilda Hopkins). The family are very poor – barely on the breadline, it could be said – but somehow Tevye manages to keep his spirits up and, amongst his fellow Jews in the village, he is respected as a stout member of the community. This day, there is good news for the family. Tevye has met a drifter by the name of Perchik (Stewart Clarke). An educated revolutionary, Perchick should be the antithesis of all the traditional values Tevye stands for. But somehow, the two strike up a friendship and Tevye invites the young man to join the family for the Sabbath. Before that, Golde has a visitor of her own, the matchmaker Yente (Louise Gold) who brings the exciting news that Lazar Wolf (Dermot Canavan) the town butcher, wishes to marry Tzeitel, the eldest of the daughters. Everything is perfect except, that Tzeitel, going against every tradition, has fallen in love with her childhood friend, the tailor Motel (Joshua Gannon) who, whilst being afraid to tell her papa, loves her back. As the world around them changes can the inhabitants of Anatevka – both Jew and Gentile – maintain their traditional life or will the twentieth century thrust its unwelcome presence on them and change their lives forever?

Based on the stories by Sholem Aleichem, Fiddler on the Roof shouldn’t work as a musical. Joseph Stein’s book is bleak to say the least. The hero is a poor man whose life doesn’t turn around unexpectedly. The entire premise is built on a group of downtrodden people trying to maintain their lives in the face of constant hatred. There is no happy jazz hands filled uplifting song to end either act I or II – in fact both are very downbeat. Everything wrong and yet with Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler on the Roof is one the most amazing musicals you will ever see. Yes, Tevye is down on his luck and the world he knows is crumbling around him but he remains an optimist with a real love of life itself. His family may annoy the heck out of him – particularly his wife Golde who can be a bit of a nag – but the love between them all is there for everyone to see no matter what roads his children follow.

Director Sir Trevor Nunn has taken this wonderful story and put together an amazing production to bring it to life. Like many people, my only contact with Fiddler was the 1971 movie which is simply perfect, so I did wonder if the translation to the relatively small stage space at the Menier would work. Well, the lights went down and there, on one of the roofs of set designer Robert Jones row of run down wooden shacks, was the fiddler (Darius Luke Thompson), playing the opening immaculately. The opening number ‘Tradition’ may not be the most famous in the show but in many ways, it is the most important. In one song, we learn everything we need to know about Anatevka, its inhabitants and especially Tevye and his family. Get that right and all else follows.

At that point, I started to smile and that smile didn’t leave my lips for the next three hours. When a show is right, then it really is right.

Andy Nyman has the unenviable task of taking a role associated in so many minds with one particular actor and making it his. This he did in fine style. I can only really sum Andy’s performance by saying Tevye is alive and well and talking to God, and the audience, in SE1. When performing with Judy Kuhn’s Golde we have a match made in heaven. The two actors really seem to work off each other delivering comedy, affection and love – especially in the really poignant “Do you Love Me?” which almost made me want to phone my mother and find me a match. This fine cast contains so many stars it’s impossible to mention everyone but Joshua Gannon as Motel and Stewart Clarke as Perchik come to mind. The two characters, one a downtrodden scared of his own shadow tailor, the other a loud idealist revolutionary are poles apart and yet, in the hands of these actors, both fit perfectly into the narrative. I’m also going to give a shout out to Dermot Canavan as the jilted Lazar Wolf. Whilst he and Tevye have a fine time discussing the match – and getting more than a little happy in the inn – the strength of the performance is later at the wedding, where Dermot brings so much of Lazar Wolf’s feelings to his face and posture, saying so much but speaking little.

So, I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, you can guess that I really enjoyed Fiddler in fact, this is probably one of the easiest production for me to award five stars. The running time of just under three hours flies by and, it’s almost a shock when we get to the amazingly touching end. The favourite moment for me? Well as in the movie, it has to be the bottle dance which as well as having amazing music is a wonder to watch. Overall, I can’t recommend Fiddler on the Roof highly enough. The run goes on to March – though tickets are like gold dust – but as Tevye would say ‘Lord, when you have a few moments, can you please arrange for this production to move north of the river and into the West End?’ An absolutely amazing production of a fantastic story. Not to be missed (if you can get a ticket).

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Miles Barrow
Sofia Bennett
Harriet Bunton
Dermot Canavan
Lottie Casserley
Stewart Clarke
Lia Cohen
Matt Corner
Shoshana Ezequiel
Joshua Gannon
Louise Gold
Fenton Gray
James Hameed
Matthew Hawksley
Matilda Hopkins
Judy Kuhn
Kirsty MacLaren
Adam Margilewski
Robert Maskell
Benny Maslov
Gaynor Miles
Ellie Mullane
Andy Nyman
Molly Osborne
Craig Pinder
Valentina Theodoulou

Based on the stories by
Sholem Aleichem
By special permission of Arnold Perl
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Produced on the New York Stage by Harold Prince
Original New York Stage Production Directed & Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Direction Trevor Nunn
Choreography Jerome Robbins & Matt Cole
Set Design Robert Jones
Costume Design Jonathan Lipman
Hair and Make Up Design Richard Mawbey
Lighting Design Tim Lutkin
Sound Design Gregory Clarke
Musical Supervision & Direction Paul Bogaev
Orchestrations Jason Carr

Based on the SHOLEM ALEICHEM stories by special permission of ARNOLD PERL

Produced on the New York Stage by HAROLD PRINCE
Original New York Stage Production Directed & Choreographed by JEROME ROBBINS
Directed by TREVOR NUNN

23rd November 2018 – 9th March 2019

Fiddler on the Roof Playhouse Theatre London


1 thought on “Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier Chocolate Factory | Review”

  1. Trevor Nunn has taken “Fiddler on the Roof”, shoehorned it brilliantly into the confined space of the “Menier Chocolate Factory” and created a masterpiece. Fiddler has generally been produced in the style of a Great American Musical, which it is, but here less is more. The story is never obscured by spectacle and special effects and the design is monochrome and realistic. This helps focus on character, storyline and particularly the music. The musical direction by Paul Bogaev is excellent and without exception the numbers are well performed and sung. The bottle dance at the wedding, which closes Act One with thrilling choreography, is outstanding.

    Nunn has assembled a very good cast though one without obvious ticket-selling star names. He is rewarded with a well acted and beautifully sung and danced production which deserves to be the sell-out it is. Andy Nyman and Judy Kuhn capture the spirit of Tegye and Golda perfectly.

    This is a very “Jewish” Fiddler – the characters, their costumes and style are so authentic-looking that you really believe yourself to be in a Shtetl in late Tsarist Russia. Change is in the air as traditions come under attack by the younger generation. But also political change is hinted at as there is a whiff of radicalism to challenge the divine right of rule of the Romanovs. That divine right, among other harsh actions, led to the anti Jewish programs – the theme of the second Act as Tegye and family are forcibly evicted from their land.

    It is the darkness of the story which thoroughly justifies Trevor Nunn’s non-glossy telling of it. Nothing dramatically nor musically is lost by the paring down – the realism is attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. Tegye’s arguments with God are more of a self-analysis than a comic turn. It is more introspective than the average American musical – some Sondheim excepted.

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