Fiddler on the Roof – Chichester Festival Theatre

We seem to switch on our televisions almost daily and see entire communities being forced to resettle or disband due to violence and intolerance around the world. It makes Joseph Stein, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s 1964 musical just as relevant, if not more so than it has ever been. So it is a canny move from Daniel Evans to make Fiddler on the Roof his first musical to direct on the main stage at Chichester.

Most striking of all is how at home Iranian born stand-up comic Omid Djalili is as he beautifully inhabits that wonderfully brow beaten yet uncompromisingly proud Father, Husband and community lynchpin Tevye. He’s a man that clings to his traditions whilst being the first to set them aside for the love of his daughters to ensure their happiness.

Lez Brotherson uses every available inch of the deceptively large Chichester stage in his clean and crisp designs. Using cleverly constructed pieces of the unsettled community’s luggage to create homes and locations he wittily and ingeniously evokes the Russian countryside and the rustic environment. The ever creative Brotherson has clearly enjoyed playing in the toy box with Evans as well for the dream sequence that sees manifestations of Tevye’s ancestors in-law thundering around the stage to great effect.

As the fiddler of the title sits aloft the false proscenium that has been installed, the Jewish settlers arrive to make the small town of Anatevka their home. Its a great use of the overture to see the town from its very beginnings through to its sad demise. The painful dispersal of Jews by the Tsarist forces in Russia left communities homeless and forced to leave the country in their droves. Stein captures this well in his book but it is in the domestic that he really scores the big hit.

As each of Tevye’s daughters find love Stein evokes the anguish, confusion and pride in him perfectly. Bock’s music and Harnick’s lyrics to beautiful songs like Do You Love Me also gently affirm Tevye’s love for the women he entered into an arranged marriage with 25 years earlier. It is touching without moving into schmaltz and always with a lightness of comedy that keeps this show feeling as fresh as a daisy at every turn.

Djalili may not be the best singer ever but it matters not. He has a relaxed and easy-going manner to his Tevye that is conversational and likeable. He dances and moves in a delightfully carefree way but always suggests a man that has responsibility weighing heavy on his shoulders. Tracy-Ann Oberman is equally matched with her fussing and mildly domineering Golde, his wife. Her love and commitment to her husband is never in doubt though.

This production boasts new choreography by Alistair David which is great throughout along with new orchestrations by David White which in parts add a delicious colour to some numbers whilst over complicating some of the simpler melodies in others.

This is a Fiddler that will be a very easy hit with the Chichester audience. It is nice to see that under Evan’s new tenure the Chichester hit machine continues with this fine production surely having life beyond West Sussex.

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