Tuesday, November 29

Fiddler On The Roof – Gladstone Theatre

Young performers show great potential.

This well-loved musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick offers many memorable songs. Even if the story is dark in places, it does have plenty of ‘Yiddish’ humour and opportunities for a large cast of mixed ages.  After a three-year break from a main production, St Paul’s performed to good houses this week at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, Fiddler opens in Anatevka in the western region of Imperial Russia. It is a hard, bleak life for the families, held together by their religion and tradition, when an edict from the Tsar evicts the Jewish settlers from their village. Who would have thought that just over a hundred later we would see people from that same region, modern day Ukraine, fleeing from Russian invaders?

The story centres around the character of Teyve a milkman, and the marriage of his three elder daughters. Tevye may dream of being a rich man, but his strong-willed girls will all defy him and marry for love not to tradition.

We begin not exactly with a fiddler on a roof but a young dancer with a violin portraying this symbolically, although we hear the fiddle from the orchestra pit.  As Teyve explains their way of life, the dramatic chorus of ‘Tradition’ introduces us to the papas, the mamas the sons and the daughters, because this story is about family.  A large company of all ages, some perhaps as young as eight, fill the stage and give good voice to this. Perhaps they were a tad crowded on this stage and it did seem a little slower in pace than normal. I expect the company would appreciate a few more adult male voices to give it more depth but that must be the case for many amateur musical groups.

Teyve, played ably by experienced David Oliver, is relaxed, confident and gives us humour with his conversations with God. He holds the audience well in his solo ‘If I were a rich man’ with a twinkle in his eye and vigor in his gait.  We meet his wife Golde, beautifully played by Marie Williams: a strong actress with a good singing voice. She is hoping Yente the matchmaker will find husbands for her daughters. Alison Wootton really gives some character and energy to Yente and was a delight to watch.

‘Matchmaker’ is the charming song which introduces the three daughter and these young girls each gave strong performances. Olivia Morell as the eldest Tzeitel, who wants to marry the poor tailor, showed some bold character acting. Annie Green as Hodel, the daughter who eventually marries the student Perchik, had a sweet expressive voice and Libbie Bentley-Jones as Chava, who in the end marries the Christian Fyedka, not only sang but was an exquisite dancer.

‘Sabbath Prayer’ was one of the highlights: the chorus led by Golde with some atmospheric lighting. The adult members of the cast give us some characters – the animated Mordcha, the rabbi with some humour and his fussy son Mendal and mothers of the village gossiping.

Photo: Steve Carr

We then moved to “L’Chaim -to Life’ which didn’t really hit the mark, possibly more men would have given this strength and impact and it did lack the energy it needed but ‘on the other hand’ as Teyve would say, the dancers made a good attempt at Russian dancing.

Despite him promising her to Lazar the butcher, Teyve agrees that Tzeitel can marry the tailor and the shy Motel played by Callum Makin delivers ‘Miracle of Miracles’ with some new-found confidence. Teyve must now convince Golde about his choice and he cleverly relates the dream of grandma.  This was an imaginatively lit bedroom sequence in which the ghosts appear. Ali Bentley Jones as Grandma Tzeitel and Sue Rannard as Fruma- Sarah both gave enjoyable performances.

At the wedding ‘Sunrise Sunset’ is sung by beautifully by the company. The wedding dances take place with some on-point dancing from the youngest cast members: even the famous bottle dance – no breakages here! Then the soldiers arrive and there is a turmoil, but this part again lacked the energy and purpose it needed, so unfortunately the end of Act 1 felt a little flat.

ACT 2 Sees Perchik, the student, declare his love for Hodel in ‘Now I have everything.’  Perchik played by Jack Darker, a very young man puts in a mature performance.  Now Tevye asks Golde ‘Do you love me’ and the two give a sensitive, heartfelt rendering of this song. 

Two more tender songs are to follow in this act ‘Far From the Home I love’, an under-rated simple song was well performed by Hodel before she leaves for Siberia and ‘Little bird’, sung tenderly by Tevye as Chava dances- made even more moving as he has turned his back on her and will not accept her marriage choice. This, for me, was another highlight. The final scene shows the tragedy of them forced to leave their homes in ‘Anatevka’ as we watch them walk off into the distance.

The director kept sets simple with minimal props mainly as there was such a large cast- always difficult to block big crowd scenes, some seemed a little squashed, but no one was left out and surely that is what community theatre is about. It would have been appreciated if more of the company could have tried to have the same east European accent. Some managed it well. Perhaps also some more of the comic moments could have been squeezed out but it was good to hear a live orchestra and people singing and enjoying themselves again. The costumes were of the period and the colours well-blended. St Paul’s has attracted lots of young members with great potential, who no doubt will one day be taking on main roles.  At the heart of this production were some well performed chorus songs and strong performances from the main cast. Tevye surrounded by his family: one wife and five daughters. No wonder he has conversations with God!

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 14th October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★