In this new touring production based on the inspirational stories of Jewish writer Shalom Aleikhem, the curtain raises on the familiar figure of a lone fiddler balancing dubiously on a roof, symbolic of man's solitary quest for survival under the most inauspicious circumstances.
The company gathers for the opening number, "Tradition", which perfectly embodies the central stalwart theme of safeguarding custom despite the progressive erosion of family values. This highly engaging tale tells of the dilemmas a man is forced to face in pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Impoverished milkman Tevye's (Paul Nicholas) vain attempts to marry off each of his disadvantaged 'Cinderellas' under the counsel of the village Matchmaker, are indicative of the winds of social reform. Tradition is regarded as a reference for how we should think and live, but the younger generations have different aspirations and are beginning to look outside the narrow framework set by their fore-fathers.
What's interesting about Tevye, however, is that for all his obstinacy, his character reveals flickers of enlightenment: he is generally more open to change than his wife. That is until the third daughter decides to marry outside the Jewish faith: a fate in his eyes worse than death.
Peter Frosdick and Martin Dodd's production jigs along at a comfortable pace and the zippy musical score made famous by Norman Jewison's 1971 film, boasts the highly memorable number "If I were a Rich Man". Although Nicholas doesn't come close to equalling Topol's barrel scraping, guttural tonal quality, he brings an enigmatic swagger and a somewhat more cheery effusiveness.
Sara Weymouth makes a fearless, domineering Golde who barely manages to drop her poe-faced reserve and is deeply ensconced in the old ways. Myra Sands is a zealous if not slightly overblown incarnation of a typical Matchmaker, while Tim Laurenti is well cast as the pallid, insipid Motel. The customary is given a good shake-up with the arrival of the unorthodox, intellectual Perchick Geoff Abbott, who represents an important catalyst for change.
The over-riding mood is reflective and dogmatic, tinged with inevitability as the eve of the revolution closes in. There are bursts of colourful cachinnation, spiritual undercurrents and renewed hope in life. As the inhabitants reluctantly prepare to abandon their homes for a new life in America, the production ends on an ambiguous note of uncertainty, reinforced by Tevye's defiant rebuttal of Chava Sarah Louise Day.
Although the themes and issues treated are played out within the microcosm of a non-descript Russian shtetl, in a wider context they and Fiddler on the Roof continue to enjoy universal relevance.
- Emma Edgeley (Reviewed at Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent)