BWW Review: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, Playhouse Theatre
After wowing audiences at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Trevor Nunn's production of Fiddler on the Roof is going from strength to strength in its stint at the West End's Playhouse Theatre; not only has it extended its run until November, but it has now welcomed two new stars to Anatevka. Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson replace Judy Kuhn and Louise Gold as Yente and Golde, respectively, joining a cast led by Andy Nyman as Tevye.
It is the early 20th century, and Tevye unwittingly finds himself at the centre of change in the small town he calls home, as his three eldest daughters (Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava) defy expectation and tradition to take husbands of their own choosing, rather than go along with the suggestions of matchmaker Yente. The arrival of the radical Perchik also shakes things up a bit - he brings challenging new ideas to the shtetl from his studies in Kiev. Despite all this everyone still seems content, though rumours about Jews being kicked out of their towns start to get a little too close to home.
The show - written by Jerry Bock (music), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Joseph Stein (book) - was first performed 55 years ago on Broadway, making its way to the West End in 1967 and adapted into a film in 1971. Since then it has had numerous revivals and tours, and won multiple awards across the decades.
This revival is particularly pertinent, given the ongoing allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party, the rise of hate crime, and the resurgence of the far right. Though Stein's book is surprisingly funny, there is a serious and emotional message at its core that will sadly ring true with audiences today. It may also act as a bit of an eye-opener for some of the older Jewish traditions, presented in a sensitive and celebratory manner rather than as a curiosity.
What's immediately striking as you step into the Playhouse Theatre is Robert Jones's set. Once again the theatre has outdone itself in transforming its auditorium into a slightly more immersive setup, with the village spilling out into the stalls and patrons sat in the boxes becoming honorary residents of Anatevka. Along with Tim Lutkin's lighting design, it's incredibly evocative; the shtetl brims with life, and Jonathan Lipman's costume design ensures the fiddler on the roof (Darius Luke Thompson) stands out from his wooden surroundings like a beacon.
Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson are terrific additions to the cast. Dobson is particularly hilarious as the busybody matchmaker, nailing her comic timing and barely letting her friends and neighbours get a word in edgeways. Friedman's Golde is more than a match for Nyman's Tevye, keeping her husband on his toes and instilling just the right amount of fear in him, whilst also showing warmth and affection towards her daughters. Golde and Tevye's duet ("Do You Love Me?") is authentically awkward and sweet - a definite highlight of the pair's interactions.
Nyman himself leads the show with aplomb and has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand from his very first monologue. He's an incredibly accomplished performer, throwing himself into every scene despite having very little time offstage to recuperate; his rendition of the famous "If I Were a Rich Man" lives long in the memory, Tevye starting off full of aches and pains but slowly getting more and more carried away with the idea. A special mention should also go to those taking part in "The Bottle Dance" for their stamina and skill at bringing some of Jerome Robbins' original choreography to life.
Though it is a rather long show - it could easily lose a couple of numbers, such as "Tevye's Dream" - it's so beautifully and carefully done that you don't actually notice how long you're sat there. With its soaring score and brilliant characterisations, Anatevka is more than welcome to stay in the West End for the foreseeable future.
Picture credit: Johan Persson