FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Chichester Festival Theatre

FROM HIS MOUTH TO GOD’S EAR…

 

 

We know Omid Djalili best as a comedian: one of our few Iranian standups. Great timing and great heart, a good Fagin but comparatively new to the stage (he improved before our very eyes in What the Butler Saw). Yet he is dream casting here as our hero Tevye the milkman: Ashkenazi Jewish, heart and butt of a 1905 shtetl, a precarious community in Imperial Russia. To lead in this Stein/ Bock/Harnick musical is a challenge: Tevye has been beloved these forty years, and even I have seen both Topol (in distant youth ) and Henry Goodman (recently). But Djalili’s Tevye is, in its freshness, humour and commitment, once again one to love.

 

Beneath his permanent hat there is a grin and a disgruntlement, patriarchal pride and husbandly henpeck and asides of puzzlement shared with us as he reasons with God and neighbours. There are the quips – “Money is a curse? God smite me with it!”. Under the jerkin and woollen prayer-shawl a warm heart beats; on clumping feet Djalili joins the occasional dance, graceful as a Disney hippo and camp as ninepence. Joyful.

 

 

I say “camp” advisedly, by the way, for camp is not exclusive to gayness but a presentation merely rueful, self-mocking, ironic , fluently expressive (even in the wedding-dance with a bottle on his hat). His scenes with Tracy-Ann Oberman as his wearily dominant wife Golde are suitably gold; so are all his interactions, warm and nimble. Whether deploying drop-dead for necessary laughs, becoming suddenly earnest in solemn Hebrew prayer, or flashing into a genuine horror of Faith at his youngest daughter’s defiant marrying-out, he feels quite simply right and real.
Ah, faith. Living in an regime as dangerous and unwelcoming as Tsarist Russia under the pogroms, Faith and community becomes something to cling to. So is a apt and necessary that Daniel Evans’ direction – as in all his work – is joyfully and solidly ensemble. The daughters are excellent – especially Simbi Akande’s   Tzeitel, who longs for Motl the tailor, and Emma Kingston’s Hodel who follows the revolutionary student to Siberia (Louis Maskell is a quietly impressive Perchik) to Siberia. Liza Sadovy is wickedly funny as the appalling matchmaker, and there is some very classy spitting. But there is nobody on that stage who is not heartfelt: part of the picture, more than a stereotype even in the lightest moments. Even the most briefly drawn romance, Fyedka the Russian and the bookish shy Chava, moves the heart almost inexplicably. So do quintessentially Jewish moments: as when Tevye gives bread to the hungry Perchik with a grumpy “to give is a blessing” and Perchik as he leaves the stage, gives a piece of it to Nachum the beggar. For the Talmud lays down that the beggar who receives charity must give a part in turn to a hungrier one.

 

 

The whole production shines as much in such tiny moments as in big showpieces. There is a real fiddler on the roof outside near the car park, safely tethered by a safety-harness as he plays into the rising summer wind, and inside the theatre, perched vertiginously overhead below the orchestra, agaiin here he is: an emblem of defiant fragility . For as Tevye says they all just “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking our necks”.

 

 

 

No need to enumerate the laughs and the reflective poignancies in this flawless revival: but by programming it Evans’ Chichester is on particularly sure ground anyway. It feels as sharp as a news bulletin. Consider that Ashkenazi Jewish settlement of Anatevka on the verge of persecution, family-rooted and patriarchal , suspicious of a new and puzzling world of women’s choice . It speaks all too clearly of our own communities which stand aside , poor, wary of the mainstream, loving in families but hopelessly clinging to patriarchal authority as Tevye tries (and fails) to do as his daughters step into a new century. Reflect that perhaps for our own Muslim communities tradition is, as for Tevye, a security blanket: “Everyone knows who is is and what God expects him to to”.

 
And among us too too are refugees from villages flattened with just the same brutality as Anatevka in the last act. Weary processions of men and headscarved women trudge nightly through the ten o’clock news with cases and bags echoing the handcarts and bundles of the past (much of the set’s furniture, significantly, is suitcases). From Syria to Stockport, Fiddler has messages for us. About how a community can be a choking restriction or a defiant victim, but at the same time be security and shelter , a rumbustious family joke and a cherished memory.
Impossible not to reflect on all this as you watch this glorious production.

 

 

But even if reflection and tears for the past and present are not your thing, just go for fun This is, after all, a Daniel Evans production, and stage machinery must not be ignored. Tevye’s dream and Grandma’s ghost will knock your socks off. Oh yes. Send it up West soon. Please.

 

http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 2 September
rating five  5 Meece Rating

 

 

 

We know Omid Djalili best as a comedian: one of our few Iranian standups. Great timing and great heart, a good Fagin but comparatively new to the stage (he improved before our very eyes in What the Butler Saw). Yet he is dream casting here as our hero Tevye the milkman: Ashkenazi Jewish, heart and butt of a 1905 shtetl, a precarious community in Imperial Russia. To lead in this Stein/ Bock/Harnick musical is a challenge: Tevye has been beloved these forty years, and even I have seen both Topol (in distant youth ) and Henry Goodman (recently). But Djalili’s Tevye is, in its freshness, humour and commitment, once again one to love.

 

Beneath his permanent hat there is a grin and a disgruntlement, patriarchal pride and husbandly henpeck and asides of puzzlement shared with us as he reasons with God and neighbours. There are the quips – “Money is a curse? God smite me with it!”. Under the jerkin and woollen prayer-shawl a warm heart beats; on clumping feet Djalili joins the occasional dance, graceful as a Disney hippo and camp as ninepence. Joyful.

 

I say “camp” advisedly, by the way, for camp is not exclusive to gayness but a presentation merely rueful, self-mocking, ironic , fluently expressive (even in the wedding-dance with a bottle on his hat). His scenes with Tracy-Ann Oberman as his wearily dominant wife Golde are suitably gold; so are all his interactions, warm and nimble. Whether deploying drop-dead for necessary laughs, becoming suddenly earnest in solemn Hebrew prayer, or flashing into a genuine horror of Faith at his youngest daughter’s defiant marrying-out, he feels quite simply right and real.

Ah, faith. Living in an regime as dangerous and unwelcoming as Tsarist Russia under the pogroms, Faith and community becomes something to cling to. So is a apt and necessary that Daniel Evans’ direction – as in all his work – is joyfully and solidly ensemble. The daughters are excellent – especially Emma Kingston’s Tzeitel, who longs for Motl the tailor, and Hodel who follows the revolutionary student to Siberia (Louis Maskell is a quietly impressive Perchik) to Siberia. Liza Sadovy is wickedly funny as the appalling matchmaker, and there is some very classy spitting. But there is nobody on that stage who is not heartfelt: part of the picture, more than a stereotype even in the lightest moments. Even the most briefly drawn romance, Fyedka the Russian and the bookish shy Chava, moves the heart almost inexplicably. So do quintessentially Jewish moments: as when Tevye gives bread to the hungry Perchik with a grumpy “to give is a blessing” and Perchik as he leaves the stage, gives a piece of it to Nachum the beggar. For the Talmud lays down that the beggar who receives charity must give a part in turn to a hungrier one.

The whole production shines as much in such tiny moments as in big showpieces. There is a real fiddler on the roof outside near the car park, safely tethered by a safety-harness as he plays into the rising summer wind, and inside the theatre, perched vertiginously overhead below the orchestra, agaiin here he is: an emblem of defiant fragility . For as Tevye says they all just “trying to scratch out a pleasant simple tune without breaking our necks”.

 

No need to enumerate the laughs and the reflective poignancies in this flawless revival: but by programming it Evans’ Chichester is on particularly sure ground anyway. It feels as sharp as a news bulletin. Consider that Ashkenazi Jewish settlement of Anatevka on the verge of persecution, family-rooted and patriarchal , suspicious of a new and puzzling world of women’s choice . It speaks all too clearly of our own communities which stand aside , poor, wary of the mainstream, loving in families but hopelessly clinging to patriarchal authority as Tevye tries (and fails) to do as his daughters step into a new century. Reflect that perhaps for our own Muslim communities tradition is, as for Tevye, a security blanket: “Everyone knows who is is and what God expects him to to”.

And among us too too are refugees from villages flattened with just the same brutality as Anatevka in the last act. Weary processions of men and headscarved women trudge nightly through the ten o’clock news with cases and bags echoing the handcarts and bundles of the past (much of the set’s furniture, significantly, is suitcases). From Syria to Stockport, Fiddler has messages for us. About how a community can be a choking restriction or a defiant victim, but at the same time be security and shelter , a rumbustious family joke and a cherished memory.
Impossible not to reflect on all this as you watch this glorious production.

 

But even if reflection and tears for the past and present are not your thing, just go for fun This is, after all, a Daniel Evans production, and stage machinery must not be ignored. Tevye’s dream and Grandma’s ghost will knock your socks off. Oh yes. Send it up West soon. Please.

 

http://www.cft.org.uk or 01243 781312 to 2 September
rating five
 

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