A production that deserves most generous praise despite minor reservations, writes PAUL FOLEY
Fiddler on the Roof
Liverpool Everyman 4/5
Liverpool Everyman’s new repertoire company pledges to deliver five plays over the next six months which will excite, intrigue and delight audiences.
If this opening production is anything to go by, this will not be a problem.
Given the current state of the world, choosing what Philip Roth described as “shtetl kitsch” was brave and timely.
A musical about poverty, persecution and pogroms may seem like something penned by Mel Brooks, but a few bars into this splendid production sweeps away any lingering unease there may be about joyous villagers gaily singing while the Russian tsar’s stormtroopers are ethnically cleansing entire swathes of his empire.
Fiddler on the Roof is really about a world in transition against a backdrop of racism and anti-semitism.
Tevye, a poor milkman, has five daughters and is desperately trying to hold on to his cultural traditions. But the women have other ideas, challenging the notion that marriage is something arranged between the village matchmaker and a father.
Struggling with the old and the new, Tevye’s love for his daughters wins through. But when the third daughter wishes to marry a gentile, that is a step too far and he casts her out.
It is understandable why Roth dismissed the musical as kitsch but Gemma Bodinetz’s skilful direction keeps this production lively and surprisingly uplifting.
The music is the heartbeat of the show and an extremely accomplished trio of musicians allow the company to belt out the classics such as If I were a Rich Man, Matchmaker and a spine-tingling Sun Rise Sun Set.
The story turns darker after the interval as the progrom comes to the village. Bodinetz cleverly brings the play up-to-date with people in modern dress joining the line of refugees fleeing to safety.
If there is one criticism it is that the tyranny of the pogrom is a little too lightly told, with the flight into exile merely another inconvenience to overcome.
Enjoyable as Fiddler is, you cannot help but wonder what possesses the descendants of such historical persecution to then expropriate towns and villages in Palestine, expelling the indigenous population.
The horror goes on and I doubt that there are many Palestinian families sitting around joyfully singing If I were a Rich Man.