It is now 55 years since that great, virtually indestructible musical Fiddler on the Roof was first staged but Trevor Nunn's revival which has transferred from the Menier Chocolate Factory to the Playhouse Theatre seems to have lost a certain freshness and now appears rather tired, although the rise in ant-Semitism still ensures it has a timeless resonance.
This is the story of generational conflict and the battle between tradition and change. Teyve, a poor milkman lives in the fictitious Ukrainian village of Anatevka with his wife Golde and their five increasingly headstrong daughters. It is 1905 and the threat of anti-Semitic violence is ever present. But Teyve has more immediate worries as his daughters have their own ideas about love and marriage, and seem intent on marrying men he disapproves of–an unsettling sign for him of how customs are giving way to modern ideas of progress. Nevertheless Teyve manages to keep his spirits up, helped by daily conversations with God about his life and troubles. But all that is about to end as the world is on the brink of great change.
Jerry Bock's music and Sheldon Harnick's lyrics include such classics as If I Were a Rich Man, which becomes a combination of a wish by Teyve and a genuine grumble about his back, and, in my opinion, the best number in the show, Sunrise Sunset, which celebrates the rituals that hold the community together. Jerome Robbins's choreography retains its passionate exuberance and, in the song To Life, its political purpose, where the fierce Cossack steps of the Russian soldiers are entwined with the meandering circles of the Jewish revellers, two cultures visibly colliding. Indeed this is a show in which songs become soliloquies and dances the expression of deep psychological and sociological barriers.
But on the debit side the production appears at times unduly protracted and would have benefitted from much tighter pacing, particularly as the story and songs are so well known.
Designer Robert Jones has created a bustling shtetl with wooden slats, gable-roofed shacks and a central walkway through the stalls, through which actors enter and exit but, although very realistic, the set appears cramped and the shows seems to lose its epic dimension.
Andy Nyman makes a convincing Teyve but lacks the charisma and engaging personality that previous actors brought to the role, in particular Topol and Zero Mostel, although his endless misquoting of scriptures, wryly humorous asides to the Almighty, and gruff tenderness to his offspring, manages to evoke quiet audience sniffles. Judy Kuhn gives a heartfelt performance as his stoical wife Golde and there is a fine trio of turns by Molly Osborne, Harriet Bunton and Nicola Brown as his offspring, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava.
And I shall long remember the final scene, when the villagers of Anatevka trudge slowly across the stage, symbolising the lost and dispossessed everywhere looking for hope, as the notes of Darius Luke Thompson's fiddler fade into nothingness.
Fiddler on the Roof
Runs at the Playhouse Theatre until Saturday15 June 209.
Box office: 0844 871 7631.
Images: Johan PerssonLast modified: April 6, 2021