Book: Joseph Stein
Music: Jerry Bock
Lyrics: Sheldon Harnick
Director: Daniel Evans
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
It is a nice touch of Chichester to provide a real live fiddler on the roof of the Festival Theatre to welcome the audience at last night’s show. The said fiddler, a very accomplished Darius Luke Thompson, was forced from his lofty perch by the impending thunderstorm for part of his performance but the ensuing production has no such low points after Omid Djalili’s charismatic introduction and the spirited rendition of Tradition from the Company.
It is notable that virtually all the well-known musical numbers in this piece occur in the first half but this is entirely in keeping with the story which becomes noticeably more sombre after the interval. Not that this takes away from the musicality and the appreciative applause for Musical Director Tom Brady and his band at the beginning of the second act is well deserved. Throughout, Brady and his team keep up the momentum with some high quality playing to which the cast responds with aplomb and a wide range of vocal styles.
The more sombre side of the performance comes about because this is very much a tale of two halves. The first act celebrates the community values of Jewish small town (shtetl) life in tsarist Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, albeit with a nod to the tensions and the poverty. The second act, on the other hand, deals with the inevitable break up of that society as social revolution sweeps through the country. The tale is told through the eyes of a poor dairyman Tevye (Djalili) who has five daughters. It is the marriages of three of these girls that are used as a vehicle to represent the social changes afoot.
Notwithstanding the efforts of the rest of the cast this is a show that revolves around, and is dominated by, its central character, Tevye. Djalili is simply superb in the role. His stand-up background gives him a grounding of timing, asides and facial expressions that he welds with an individual style of singing to carry the show. He holds most of the audience in his hand from the first minute and the rest join after his If I Were a Rich Man. He gets good support from his fellows and in particular from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Golde, his wife. Her role in the first half is not well defined but she comes into her own rather more in the second act as the plot gets darker.
A feeling of potential doom is never far away but this is a lively and humorous performance. Director Daniel Evans manages to infuse the production with a sense of life and light-heartedness throughout. In this, he is much aided by Lez Brotherston’s design with no standing scenery and the clever use of movable luggage. This creates a number of different scenes purely in the audience’ eye but also provides a symbol for the impending transience of the society and the climax of the play. It also frees up a large amount of space which Choreographer Alistair David uses to the full for his energetic routines. Another creative highlight is David Hersey’s inspired lighting. Again the audience is led into changes of mood and scene by nothing more than a subtle variation in the light.
There are some blips. Some of the words are lost through an imbalance of music and singing. Some of the more Jewish aspects are pushed towards farce, the bottle dance springs to mind.
But overall it is a fine show, worth going for the ‘Dream’ scene alone, the essential Chichester water effect and, above all, Djalili’s energy and skill.
Runs until 2 September 2017 | Image: Johan Persson