FringeReview UK 2017
Director Daniel Evans does something different to recent revivals of Fiddler on the Roof. His version of Joseph Stein’s Jerry Bock’s and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 perennial isn’t as bleak or minimal as some. Music director Tom Brady’s band punches David White’s re-orchestration of Bock’s original with Darius Luke Thompson’s pure-toned fiddler. Carolyn Downing’s sound design balances intimate and sound-burst. So it’s a large-scale production played out on Lez Brotherston’s planked and stripped stage with moveable sticks of furniture and a Spartan protuberance of a bed. David Hersey’s mostly muted lighting casting shadows; with a hint of blue or, naturally sunset at the back. Nina Dunn’s video work emerges at the close. To September 2nd; transfer not confirmed.
In an age when the flayed-back truth of refugees and pogroms beat insistently as the black-and-white images finally projected here, director Daniel Evans does something different to recent revivals of Fiddler on the Roof. His version of Joseph Stein’s Jerry Bock’s and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 perennial isn’t as bleak or minimal as some, notably the Liverpool Everyman production this year. Nevertheless its Janus-faced roar towards Broadway and loud whisper to pogroms and refugees couldn’t be clearer.
Tom Brady’s band punches David White’s re-orchestration of Bock’s original literally on the roof, but we start as we have to with Darius Luke Thompson’s pure-toned fiddler up there, invoking Chagall’s Green Violin, the spark inspiring the original. Carolyn Downing’s sound design balances intimate and sound-burst.
So it’s a large-scale production played out on Lez Brotherston’s planked and stripped stage with moveable sticks of furniture and a Spartan protuberance of a bed. The set you realize is made up of suitcases, those sad exilic motifs. David Hersey’s mostly muted lighting casting shadows; with a hint of blue or, naturally sunset at the back. There’s literal pyrotcechnics in store though, a whooshing ring of fire and an airborne ghost putting to shame any Angels from America. Hersey too revels in possibilities. The great fake dream episode where Tevye placates Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Golde with a vision of a ghosts condemning an arranged marriage stints nothing, this show’s glorious set-piece. It’s more a case of having your New York cheesecake and handing it out. The power of this musical, particularly in New York is spelt: this is ourselves, where we’ve come from. Evans’ production underlines that in the naturalism that Omid Djalili, for instance brings to his role.
Djalili’s Tevye the milkman emerges from Alistair David’s slow burn choreography where circles at the opening prefigure the end on carts. A poor man with five marriageable, dowerless daughters like a more pressed Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Djalili invests his ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ with a spontaneity notably different to Topol’s. It’s testier, even angrier, the comedy counterpointing desperation. When he reflects ’it’s no shame to be poor’ he emphasizes the last word. Again he adds ‘it’s no great honour either’ with emphasis on ‘ether’ not ‘honour’ as in Topol’s version which comedically guys ‘honour’. Here Djalili speaks plainly, starkly. The schmaltz of having a lame horse isn’t comic. Djalili groans with the weight. His flawed, testy but ultimately conscience-embodying Tevye gains stature because he can – mostly – overcome himself. Each time a daughter confronts him and Tradition as well as the community the ‘on the one hand’ routine becomes part of his grudging enlightenment. Others of his generation are fixed. Tevye can’t always budge either, but in the tradition of Janus, he’s trying to look both ways.
This is essentially because each daughter pushes harder at tradition. Despite the three eldest girls singing an appeal to be found cute husbands, Simbi Akande Tzeitel, the eldest daughter breaks the traditional attempt of matchmaker Lisa Sadovy’s Yente cajoling Jos Slovick’s timid tailor Motel then an ardent appeal herself. Slovick gets the best groom’s song in a fine fragility with ‘Wonder of Wonder’ and the duet’s touching. Of course the cast’s ‘Sunrise, Sunset’, vocally restrained here, is still heart-stopping and it’s interrupted by that other strand that somehow Tevye, the village’s conscience is burdened with – more than Harry Francis’ equivocal though quick-witted Rabbi, fine at Tsar-curses, helpless with Tsar’s men.
Emma Kingston’s more feisty Hodel and her chosen Perchick revolutionary student from Kiev Louis Maskell make a vidi impression. Maskell’s virile impatient Perchik is more than matched by Kingston’s capacity to stand up to him as well as her father, and ask for mere blessing. Seoprah Parish’s Chava of course marries out (Luke Featherston’s taciturn but decent Fyedka): Parish brings out the introverted, more devastating finality of this with a sad rationality that only crumples a little on her attempt to reconcile.
Forces not far from Fyedka’s soldier push tradition beyond Stephen John Davis’s half-decent Constable to control. We see some exciting Cossack dancing in celebration of butcher Lazar Wolf’s ultimately scotched betrothal to Tzitel (in Gareth Snook’s memorably raging china-bullishness). It’s emblematic of the tradition and traditional tolerance – meaning modest progroms – both about to vanish.
It hovers as we’re treated to Djalili’s final number with Golde ‘Do You love Me’ and the deftness of feeling, the movement of a couple as they make the bed, with the gentle ironies of Oberman’s rhetoric lift Golde from shrewish caricature to beating warmth.
The collapse of this world into hand carts is still a quietly shattering affair as each sundering and renewal is shivered out with stools and fragrant relics. Pierce Rogan’s Avram the bookseller you feel will thrive, Andrew Boyer’s pacifying Mordcha the innkeeper perhaps – fates are etched and you follow an imaginary dotted line. Oberman again shines comforting Sadovy’s Yente, as each fare to different cities west and east – Sadovy too emerges as a widow with one last shot at making a living in the only place that allows it. Oberman’s kissing the earth lightly though isn’t schmaltz. It’s painfully contemporary. As is the sudden curtain of rain on the crocodile of – now – immigrants. Emblematically the ancient elements of water, earth fire, even a swirl of air play over the cast like fates.
Evans allows this musical theatre to breathe on his own big-hearted terms whilst allowing the bones to show, as it does with a breath-taking diminuendo and Nina Dunn’s video work that seems to raise and settle the dust of emigration as we watch. For sheer penetration, heart and balance it’s as definitive as we’re likely to see for many years.