A gripping performance of the Jewish Fiddler on the Roof

A gripping performance of the Jewish Fiddler on the Roof

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Sheffield Lyceum

When a show is long yet doesn’t seem long at all, you know it’s good, and this Fiddler on the Roof is a warm, beautiful and particularly fascinating piece of theatre.

The role of Jewish tradition sits centre stage, of course, Tradition being the first big musical number. Wise choices have been made under the direction of Craig Revel Horwood
to ensure the poor Russian village setting, peasant costume, dance, and delivery properly evoke this period in Jewish history. In the delivery of the music, though, and in the main role of Tevye (strongly defined by Topol in the sixties and in the 1971 film) there’s a departure from tradition.

With music featuring large in the lives of folk of that era, it’s appropriate, perhaps, that the music making in this production is a magnificent spectacle in its own right. The cast is also the orchestra, its members playing the full, unstinting score entirely from memory.

Sarah Travis has tailored original orchestration so that, even as, instruments in hand, they speak, interact, move around, sing or dance, the actors seamlessly integrate their breathtaking musical skills into the drama. Since each actor plays various instruments, the range is huge: from cor anglais to ukulele and accordions; from cymbals, tambourines, cowbell, xylophones and drums to guitar, cello, double bass, piano, and through to oboe, clarinets, piccolos and flutes. The Rabbi’s plays bassoon, ghostly granny’s on trombone and mama’s on trumpet

Susannah Van Den Berg truly astounds not only with exciting clarinet playing but with heavenly operatics as she flies large over the scenery, whistling, between times, on a kleine sopranino recorder. There is also, of course, a fiddler on the roof.

Jennifer Douglas has superb violin skills, and courtesy of her feline stealth, elegance and agility, she perches in all manner of other places too. Balanced precariously on the edge, concentrating on doing her very best without falling off, she provides an ongoing metaphor for Tevye’s poverty-stricken, dilemma-ridden life. Oh, if only God might curse him with the burden of being a rich man!

Big name Paul Michael Glaser was, over forty years ago, the cardy-wearing heart-throb cop, Starsky. He also played young suitor, Perchik, in the 1971 Fiddler film in which Topol starred. Taking his turn now as patriarch Tevye, Glaser deliberately departs from Topol’s big, bold style to create a more understated, subtler version. He’s no great singer, it must be said, and there are moments when louder and bolder might be welcome, especially when he occasionally mumbles, but his Tevye is warm and thoroughly endearing.

The relaxed delivery of Glaser’s twinkling humour is a huge hit, and his direct rapport with the audience is totally engaging, as, with shambling, nonchalant gait, he chats in monologue to God and to the world at large, bewailing his situation and disecting his constant, escalating problems.

When his three headstrong older daughters break from tradition to choose their own husbands, papa vacillates from angry, indignant, frustrated, exasperated and inflexible to resigned, philosophical, playful and persuadable. His desire to cling to tradition is ultimately tempered by love, by his habit of viewing every problem from all its infinite, conflicting sides, and by his unfailing humour, all of which allows him to move with the changing times.

There are noteworthy performances too from his three singing daughters, from Karen Mann as his sturdy wife, Golde, whose duet with him in Do You Love Me? is beautifully touching, and from Jon Trenchard as Motel, the comically timid, good-hearted, flute-playing tailor.

Fiddler’s gripping storyline, culminating in the eviction of the Jews by the Tsar, is brought vibrantly to life through wonderful, warm humour, lively drama, classic songs and incredible music making. The achievement of this ensemble is colossal.

Eileen Caiger Gray

The tour continues till May.