Review - Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier Chocolate Factory
Trevor Nunn makes a triumphant return to his old stomping ground the Menier with a joyous, poignant production of the Bock and Harnick classic, Fiddler on the Roof. From the moment you step inside, with the soundscape of hens and cows, it’s easy to forget that we’re in 2018. Staging any show here can be problematic because of the tight space, but this is the genius of how theatre can be reimagined.
Nothing was deemed too safe in this thrust staging: Matt Cole’s reimagining of Jerome Robbins choreography was bold and immersive (including acrobatics that I genuinely thought would knock out an audience member). Members of Paul Bogaev’s tightly honed orchestra navigated their way through the audience, and bagels offered to the audience looked particularly appealing. Musically, the harmonies were stellar, particularly during the show’s opening featuring a myriad of counterpoint unaccompanied.
With many classic musical theatre songs, it could be easy to stick to tried and tested ways of staging Fiddler. But with certain comedic moments such as Tevye’s dismay at his age during If I Was A Rich Man and conveying this musically was a treat.
Judy Kuhn as Golde shone and her shrewd onstage partnership with her daughters and husband are integral to the story. As the narrator of Fiddler, Andy Nyman’s portrayal of Tevye was fresh, uplifting, but heartbreaking, too. Similarly to Caroline in Caroline, Or Change, he also struggles to move with the times and the internal conflict is apparent. There are in turn some wonderful stand out performances from their daughters played by Molly Osborne, Harriet Bunton and Kirsty MacLaren, working alongside their suitors Joshua Gannon, Stewart Clarke and Matt Corner.
Whilst there is plenty of light, there are uncomfortable moments. Tevye turning his back on his daughter Chava is particularly harrowing. Screaming in anguish, the heavily amplified ensemble drown her out while Tim Lutkin’s lighting design was particularly effective. Act one ends on happier wedding celebrations, but they foreshadow the violence that is to come: a reminder that despite the joy in a village steeped in tradition, there is a sinister undertone to this story.
My only critique would be the dialect; it seemed like a hybrid of Eastern European, New Yorker and London. But it wasn’t enough to distract me from this enthralling production.
“Tradition” is at the heartbeat of Fiddler, as the older generation reckon with a rapidly changing world. This formerly upbeat number has darker tones depicted through Jason Carr’s orchestrations. The omnipotent Tzar is the puppet master, pulling the strings and distorting this story into a nightmare because of his violent attacks on the Jewish faith.
As the snow falls over the quirky little town of Aneytya, and watching this close-knit community saying goodbye to the home they love, I couldn’t help but feel that this show is working in tandem with a contemporary society today with people still struggling with trying to make ends meet in an impoverished life. However, there is no political agenda being pushed by Nunn - it is simply heartwarming.
Fiddler on the Roof is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 9th March.