Fiddler on the Roof
“Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof.” This defence of tradition, spoken by Tevye, the Jewish husband and father at the centre of Sholem Aleichem’s 1895 short story about a milkman on which this musical is based, sets up one of the central themes of the show. And it’s a timely one. The tension between adhering to cultural and religious traditions and adapting to a changing world feels so current and this hit production, masterfully directed by Trevor Nunn, delivers on every level. It’s a joyful, moving and exuberant night in the theatre with a stunning central performance from Andy Nyman as Tevye.
Following its revival at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Fiddler on the Roof has transferred to the Playhouse Theatre. This could be the best version of Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s classic musical on the London stage for many years. Robert Jones’ set design, a softly backlit forest with the silhouettes of trees stretching around the theatre, effectively evokes Russia at the turn of the century, enveloping the audience in the village of Anatevka.
If you come along only knowing ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ you soon discover that Fiddler is packed with equally memorable hit songs. ‘Tradition’, the opening number, sets the tone for the rest of the show: it’s a stirring and powerfully performed reflection on the role of tradition in creating a sense of identity and community. Belonging. A role. “Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do." In the context of a small Jewish community facing great social upheaval, the song perfectly establishes the traditions which will begin to disintegrate as the story unfolds. The choreography (Jermone Robbins and Matt Cole) is stunning in this dynamic and energetic whole cast opening and sets the standard for the rest of the show.
Tevye’s daughters, Tzeitel (Molly Osborne), Hodel (Harriet Bunton) and Chava (Nicola Brown) are all played with spirit, chutzpah and charm. There is a palpable connection between each of them and their parents as they challenge the most restrictive tradition in Anatevka: the arrangement of marriages through a matchmaker (also brilliantly played by a willowy and commanding Louise Gold).
Golde, Tevye’s wife (Tania Newton) is wonderfully matriarchal, conjuring an endearing connection to her husband. Act Two’s ‘Do You Love Me?’ poignantly captures a tentative exploration of love after 25 years in an arranged marriage. Andy Nyman’s Tevye is a joy to watch from start to finish: he flawlessly captures the torn tenderness of a father seeking to do the right thing by his daughters whilst battling with the breaks from tradition this involves. His reflective moments weighing up different perspectives (‘on the other hand…’) are loving and extremely moving as he struggles to navigate the changing roles of father, husband and Jew.
As suitors, Motel (Joshua Gannon), Perchik (Stewart Clarke) and Lazar Wolf (Dermot Canavan) each bring passion and pain to their roles. There’s nothing shaky about this Fiddler on the Roof: voices are incredible across the whole cast. A slick, sharp and spirited production of a much-loved musical. Perfect theatre for newcomers to the show and fans alike.
‘Fiddler on the Roof’ is playing at the Playhouse Theatre in London until 28th September 2019.