Edward York as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof
The Watermill Theatre
16 April 2002 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews The tale of Tevye, the Jewish milkman eking out an existence in a shtetl (village) in Tsarist Russia and trying to do his best for his wife and family of marriageable daughters receives a bold new treatment in John Doyle's production.
Doyle's hallmark concept of casting actor-musicians proves an inspired way of telling this story of family life in changing times. We're used to the big all-singing, all-dancing approach but so much of this story takes place in the intimacy of Tevye's village home. So the wooden beams of this lovely theatre space blend effortlessly with
Mark Bailey's simple in-the-round design and Richard Jones' atmospheric lighting to draw us in.
Doyle's concept has another, more sombre intent too. Despite the threat of persecution ever looming over these beleaguered Russian Jews, the story is bittersweet, with hope for a better future balancing fear of the unknown. That balance is tipped subtly but firmly by the yellow star, the Nazis' obligatory label for Jews. All the actors wear it, sewn on garments ranging from voluminous peasant skirts to smart 1940s ensembles and the striped uniforms of the concentration camp. Consequently, you never lose sight of the eventual fate of some villagers such as Motl (an appealing
Paul Harvard), the tailor optimistic about a new start in Warsaw.
From the first fiddle strains - played here by Tevye's daughter Chava (a vulnerable
Stephanie Pochin) by the light of Sabbath candles - an air of elegiac melancholy underpins the very real exhilaration of celebratory numbers like To Life! . But gaiety and audience laughter are irrepressible, and the virtuoso performances Doyle and musical director/arranger Sarah Travis draw from their multi-talented cast ensure an irresistibly high energy level.
Susanna Northern brings a touching intensity to Tzeitel, Tevye's oldest daughter, and Rebecca Jackson's Yente, the matchmaker, is a beguiling mix of style and chutzpah. At times Edward York's Tevye is a tad underpowered while Karen Mann as Golde his wife can be overpowering.
But these are quibbles, for this ensemble reaps the rewards of working together over time - and to our good fortune, so do we, the audience.
- Judi Herman
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