I was expecting a show full of boisterous choruses, lively dancing and many a fuzzy beard – and that’s exactly what I got from Craig Revel Horwood’s (yes the one from Strictly) Fiddler on the Roof.
For those who are unaware of this classic musical, Fiddler on the Roof is the beautiful tale of a rustic Russian village, Anatevka, whose poor Jewish inhabitants work hard to scratch a living whilst proudly upholding their traditions; the foundation upon which their lives depend. The audience are welcomed into the village by Tevye the dairyman (Paul Michael Glaser – who played Perchik in the 1971 film version and Starsky, of the and Hutch variety, in 1975). Tevye has three husbandless daughters (played by Emily O’Keeffe, Liz Singleton and Claire Petzal) whom Tevye and his wife Golde (Karen Mann) are keen to marry off. However, the girls have just one condition, which shocks and appals their parents: love.
The set is a life sized wooden house, Tevye’s home, painted with golden Hebrew writing – the traditions embedded within Anatevka’s people are also embedded within their homes. The house is manually revolved by the actors and stage hands, sneakily hidden by black coats and beards… and head mics.
The Yiddish/Russian accents were a real challenge for some cast members, Paul Kissaun (Lazar Wolf) simply decided not to do one which really spoilt the atmosphere, but when they worked they brought the whole story to life.
A truly original touch to the show was that all the actors, ensemble and lead, took the role of musicians as well as dancers, singers and actors. It takes a thoroughly talented individual to sing and play the flute at the same time! This choice did mean people were chosen for their combined abilities and the skill that was perhaps neglected was the vocals – with the exception of Liz Singleton who hit some exceptional notes. That said, Fiddler’s songs are not technically outstandingly challenging, the musical lacks the real belters of Chicago or Wicked.
Yet there are many famous numbers, such as ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ (Covered by Gwen Stefani in 2004), ‘Do You Love Me?’ and, of course, ‘Tradition’. The strong Yiddish influence means every tune has a great foot-tapping beat and I was glad the encore gave the audience the chance to clap along.
Paul Michael Glaser relaxed into the character of Tevye, with a grand stage presence, his natural, almost lazy way of delivering lines and a certain cheekiness set the audience mumbling in amusement.
It was refreshing to see that the Fiddler had been cast gender-blind. Unlike the Fiddler in the film, our Fiddler was a woman (Jennifer Douglas) who played with great cattiness and grace and managed to still look sexy in a checked suit (possibly passed on by the Artful Dodger).
Moments which stood out were The Dream sequence, performed with such enjoyment by the cast, Miracle of Miracles, for its innocent romance, and the famed bottle dance – I’m fairly sure the bottles weren’t gulped on because one of them fell off!
But this isn’t just a simple story of finding love (or husbands) but a small gimps into a dark period of history within Tsarist Russia. The dark background to this story accentuates its moments of sorrow and pain, we are reminded that the mistreatment of our characters by the Tsar’s men is no fiction and represents evictions and racism on an epic scale creating a musical with depth and potency.
Eve Wersocki Morris
Fiddler is running at Theatre Royal until Saturday 21st September. Tickets can be found online at http://www.trch.co.uk/index.aspx?articleid=22119