Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Book by Joseph Stein
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Music by Jerry Bock
Directed by Trevor Nunn
|Judy Kuhn and Andy Nyman
One can only wonder if, when Fiddler On The Roof was being scheduled for the Menier over this Christmas season, that the producers were aware that the chill winds of antisemitism that whip through the show’s narrative would again be so prevalent in the UK. For rarely does a show present such a polarised contrast between a glorious celebration of life and the stark reality of man’s inhumanity.
Trevor Nunn helms this latest outing of the Broadway classic and together with a gifted cast and crew alongside the unique intimacy of the Menier’s space, he crafts a charming interpretation of life in the Jewish Pale of Settlement.
Andy Nyman steps up to the role of Tevye, beautifully bearded, he makes fine work of perhaps the world’s most famous milkman. The role is massive – in both its vocal and physical demands, as well as the emotional spectrum that defines Tevye’s journey. If Nyman is not quite there yet with some of the more finely nuanced moments, he is a gifted performed who will surely settle into the songs’ full ranges as the show matures. He does however capture the worldly, weary wisdom of the beloved husband and father he portrays, bringing an authenticity to the role that catches the audience’s feelings at unexpected moments. There is a depth to his Tevye that has, quite possibly, not been witnessed on these shores since Topol.
Judy Kuhn is Golde, bringing her recent previous experience of the role from Bartlett Sher’s Broadway production. Again, and for the first time in decades over here, Kuhn brings an authentic credibility to Tevye’s spouse, offering a clearly defined relief to the complexities and triumphs that have seen her's and Tevye's 25 year old marriage become such a strong family bedrock.
Not just at the top, there is inspirational casting throughout Nunn’s compay. The always excellent Louise Gold delivers a perfect Yente, taking a tiny role and breathing a new life into its significance. Dermot Canavan’s Lazar Wolf captures the wealthy butcher's financial power within Anatevka's tiny community and yet, ultimately, his vulnerability too. As Perchik, Stewart Clarke convinces as a young Jewish firebrand. There is, perhaps, a little more that all three of the adult daughters could bring to their respective roles and challenges – but to say any more would be unnecessarily harsh, for above all this Fiddler is a work of rare beauty.
And that beauty is essentially derived from Nunn’s inspired staging. Robert Jones' design transforms the Menier with aged timbers encompassing the whole space, hinting at the impoverished architecture of the shtetl. And yet, amidst this darkened wood and with the company playing out in the venue’s thrust space, audience raked around them on three sides, there is almost a hint of an Eastern European synagogue settled upon the theatre. So much so that in the first act's wedding scene, as Motel stamps upon the glass to seal his marriage to Tzeitel, this reviewer felt more akin to being a guest at the wedding, rather than just a critical audience member. It was as much as one could do to hold back from joining in with the cast and shouting a hearty “Mazeltov” from the third row!
Nunn delivers inspirational work on Tevye’s Dream too, always a moment of comedy horror when done well. Intriguingly, the performer playing Grandmother Tzeitel is not credited in the programme, but one detects however that perhaps an both an age and gender swap has occurred in the old lady's casting (and actually, it works brilliantly too!)
And there is quality too across the show’s creative team. Matt Cole offers up a worthy working of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, while Jason Carr’s orchestrations and Paul Bogaev’s direction bring a verve to Jerry Bock’s score.
In short – this production is both an imaginative yet also reassuringly traditional take on a much loved show. In eschewing any trendy political statement to hang around his work, Nunn has made it all the more poignant and powerful. Deservedly sold out for the rest of its Menier run, his Fiddler On The Roof is a must-see musical.
Runs until 9th March 2019
Photo credit: Johan Persson