Thursday 27 June 2019

Fiddler On The Roof - Review

Playhouse Theatre, London


Book by Joseph Stein
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Music by Jerry Bock
Directed by Trevor Nunn

Maria Friedman and Andy Nyman

With its first major cast change since opening - as well as a shift across the Thames - Trevor Nunn’s Fiddler On The Roof remains one of London’s musical theatre jewels. The intimacy of the Menier Chocolate Factory's original treatment is not quite replicated in the Playhouse’s transformation, that sees "shtetl-lite" timber cladding dotted around the auditorium, but with a winding pathway built through the stalls there's enough enhancement to draw the audience into Russia's Pale of Settlement and away from the show's traditional West End proscenium treatment.

Some six months into the role sees Andy Nyman sit ever more comfortably as Tevye. There is a wise youthfulness to both Nyman’s timbre and gait and even though the show is set at the turn of the last century, Nyman brings a perceptible modernity to his performance. His Tevye is a man witnessing the very tenets of his faith being tested as his three grown up daughters each explore their different paths towards emancipation and he remains convincing throughout. It helps that Nyman's voice is glorious too – resonant and thrilling in If I Were A Rich Man, yet deeply tender in Do You Love Me.

In a canny casting move by the producers, Maria Friedman and Anita Dobson make the move from Albert Square to Anatevka. Friedman’s Golde defines the Jewish matriarch, loving and compassionate, yet with a resoluteness that permeates her delivery. Friedman has long been recognised as a gifted musical theatre leading lady and it is only a shame that the show does not allow Golde more centre stage moments. Some in the audience may recall Friedman’s turn at the National Theatre some thirty years ago in Joshua Sobol’s Ghetto, a role that is today only enhanced as she displays a strength and resilience in portraying the timeless persecution of the Jews. At all times though Friedman acts with an artistic beauty that shuns mawkish schmaltz.

Dobson steps up to the role of the ageing, widowed Yente the village matchmaker. There is an unquestionable sparkle to Dobson’s work – in a role that Sheldon Harnick imbued with more than its fair share of the show’s witticisms – but currently she is more battleaxe than busybody and misses a hint of Yente's nuance. The criticism here  slight but subtle. Yiddishkeit is not easy to master, but given time and an exposure to Friedman and Nyman’s onstage chemistry, Dobson can only grow into the role.

Most of Nunn’s staging has transferred well – the wedding scene in particular – though amidst the lofty heights of a full London stage, Tevye’s Dream loses a little of the wit that worked so wonderfully within the Chocolate Factory’s intimacy.

Excellence continues to abound throughout the show – with Nunn eliciting every moment of Harnick’s wry, self-deprecating pathos. The show's song and dance is wonderful - sadly the message of Fiddler On The Roof and the agelessness of antisemitism remains as depressing as ever.

Booking until 2nd November
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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