Fiddler on the Roof
By Peter May
Doing a big musical about Jews living in poverty in 19th century Russia and ultimately being tossed from their homes was a big risk. However when it opened it became a monstrous hit and has become a beloved classic in the world of musicals. Based on the Tevye the Dairyman short stories by the Yiddish writer Sholem Aliechem, Fiddler on the Roof first hit Broadway in 1964, and went on to break the then-record for the longest running musical. Andy Nyman who plays Tevye in this Trevor Nunn production is superb. He is blessed or cursed with five daughters, and he engages the audience from the moment he drags his milk-cart on stage and starts to berate God for laming his horse on the day before the Sabbath. His rendition of If I was a Rich Man builds up from a quiet mumble to an energetic whinge whilst complaining about his aches and pains.
He has excellent chemistry with Judy Kuhn, who plays his wife Golde with great charm and sympathy, in a role that could too easily be a shrew-like stereotype. Their scenes and songs together are uniformly excellent, from the touching pathos of “Do I love you?” and “Sunrise, Sunset” to the madcap Gothic whirlwind of “Tevye’s Dream”,which is a riot of hand-puppets, shrieking and billowing gauze.
In the Menier’s small space the audience surround the stage, while actors pass through opening hut doors , which makes for an intimate setting. There is a good attention to detail with the set, which revolves around a bustling village.
When the actors leave the stage for the final time, darkness falls across the set, and the sound of the wind rises amongst the abandoned buildings. While the staging of this musical was traditional, coasting through on fond memories of the film, this sudden bleakness, with all humanity fled, gives us a useful moment to consider the relationship between this classic musical and the new stories, too common in the past century, of state violence, displacement, and forced migration.
Fiddler on the Roof at Menier Chocolate Factory until 9 March, 2019