The set isn’t much to shout about in this otherwise shimmering production of Fiddler on the Roof. Or perhaps there is. Fairly minimal, there may not be much to see (save for an unexpectedly impressive ‘The Dream’ in the slightly overly long first half) but it portrays the poverty of the Jewish community in Anatevka, a fictitious village, extremely well. After all, one of the musical’s most famous numbers, ‘If I Were A Rich Man’, would hardly be justified in the context of an opulent and busy set. I couldn’t help but think of the West End production of Les Misérables as the stage revolve turned and turned with each scene.
There’s a sort of proscenium arch put on the vast Chichester Festival Theatre stage. Above this sit the musicians, ably conducted by Tom Brady. This isn’t so much ‘fiddler on the roof’ (although there is one, Darius Luke Thompson) as ‘orchestra on the roof’. The video projections (Nina Dunn) in this production allow, particularly in the closing sequence, for some reflection in a world in which all too often there are still groups of people forced out of their neighbourhoods through no fault of their own. It may be a little overblown for some, leaving too little to the imagination. But for me, there can never be enough reminders of a harrowing part of history, in which large numbers of Jews were driven out of the Russian Empire.
The beautiful thing about this musical is that it isn’t all about the politics and the brutality. Omid Djalili in the lead role of Tevye, brings the house down with impeccable comic timing, doubtless perfected from years on the stand-up circuit. Here stands the exasperated Tevye, doing his utmost to deal with multiple problems while both his family life and the world at large seem to be going topsy-turvy. There are external threats and internal conflicts. His conversations with God are relatable to those who believe, and more pertinently, in my humble opinion, to those who don’t.
When he rages, he does so palpably, eliciting much laughter from a captivated audience – at one point, I could almost hear Richard Wilson’s Victor Meldrew exclaiming utter disbelief at what is going on. But when the occasion calls for a softer approach, Djalili’s Teyve is even more sublime, and the duet with his wife Golde (Tracy-Ann Oberman), ‘Do You Love Me?’ is a moment of calm and charm before the calamity to come.
There are moments of brilliance in Alistair David’s choreography, particularly in ‘Wedding Dance’, coming just before the interval. And it’s a big production – I didn’t detect a single weak link amongst the 32 actors listed in the show’s programme. Rose Shalloo as Chava, Teyve’s third daughter (of five), is a standout amongst the many supporting roles, as is Fyedka (Luke Fetherston), asserting a convincing level of chemistry between them, showing that love can win over politics (whether familial or national) and, as the show’s opening number puts it, ‘Tradition’.
It’s a production that takes its time, and occasionally it does feel a tad slow, though this may have more to do with Joseph Stein’s book not quite being as pacy in 2017 as it may have been in 1964. But, all things considered, this is a noble and splendid revival of a passionate and poignant musical. Recommended. It would be a surprise if this production doesn’t secure a London transfer at some point.
Review by Chris Omaweng
10 July – 2 September 2017, Chichester Festival Theatre
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Based on the Sholem Aleichem Stories
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 by and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins
Directed by Daniel Evans
1905. A small village in Imperial Russia. Tevye, a poor dairyman, and his wife, Golde, are blessed with five witty and beautiful daughters. The matchmaker Yente, who believes any husband is better than no husband, is busy making sensible marriage plans for them all.
But Tevye’s bold daughters have their own ideas about who to marry. And as change and new ideas roll in from the big cities, dissolving the old ways of life, the sisters are not alone in their lust for something new.
This celebrated and much-loved musical is packed with show-stopping songs including If I Were A Rich Man, Tradition and Matchmaker. The original record-breaking Broadway production won nine Tony Awards including Best Musical.
This new staging is directed by Chichester’s Artistic Director Daniel Evans, whose hit productions at Sheffield Theatres included Show Boat, My Fair Lady and Flowers for Mrs Harris. His outstanding creative team includes designer Lez Brotherston (Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, Sister Act) and choreographer Alistair David (Show Boat, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers).
10th July to 2nd September 2017