King’s Theatre: Wed 5 – Sat 8 April 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin
Sweeping along on the back of a strong emotional charge, Edinburgh Music Theatre has made good of its move down the hill for a short stay at the King’s with its Fiddler on the Roof.
There is no doubting the strength of the musical, with its story of impoverished milkman Tevye struggling to survive with his wife and five daughters in the Pale of Settlement in Russia in 1905. Not to mention such instantly recognisable numbers as If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset.
Its first incarnation in 1964 ran for a record breaking 3,252 performances, if popularity is any indication of quality. It certainly catches something of the 1960s zeitgeist with female emancipation one of the strong themes as Tevye battles to cope with his daughters’ breaking from tradition to marry for love.
EMT catch all these things with a production which knows very well how to play to the strengths of the company.
Starting from the on-stage brass quartet gently playing tunes from the show by way of an overture, continuing with a solid 44-strong ensemble and culminating in a finale that brings the production right into the here and now, director Ian Hammond Brown and MD Paul Gudgin ensure the production gets many things right.
Alex Kantor’s Tevye has enough power in his lower range to make sure that his performance is memorable. He might not the most commanding of Tevyes, but he is certainly one of the most truthful ones. His pain comes from an honest place in a performance that seems, at times, to be channeling fictional Italian priest Don Camillo, with his constant backchat with his God.
fills the stage
Tradition drives this community. That is made certain in the famous opening number, which fills the stage, defining the things which keep the Jewish village united in the face of aggression from the Russian neighbours.
Choreographer Sarah Wilkie keeps the stage filled, but never swamped. Indeed, she brings a consistently strong dance element, whether in the dancing daughters, the Russian dances at the inn when Tevye agrees to marry the eldest, Tzeitel, to Kenneth Pinkerton’s solidly un-charming butcher, Lazar Wolf, or the celebrations at her ultimate marriage to the tailor, Motel.
The daughters have both a strong combined presence on stage and individual performances which capture and enhance the characters of the girls. Notably, the three older ones who get married against their father’s wishes: Sally Pugh’s Tzeitel, who understands but begs to alter the tradition, Ashley Grandison’s Hodel who dares to step out and dance with David Bartholomew’s radical student Perchik and Katie McLean’s Chava, who dares to date the Russian soldier, Fyedka (Keith Macleod).
Libby Crabtree is also a commanding presence in the somewhat ungiving role of Golde, Tevye’s wife of 25 years. Ensuring that such key set-pieces as The Dream – the “nightmare” when Tevye pretends to be talking to Lazar Wolf’s long-dead first wife Fruma-Sarah (an enjoyably nightmarish Sophie Cogle) are a real hoot.
All the while Hazel Beattie’s pushy matchmaker, Yente, is hanging around in the background, ready to find another unsuitable husband for the dowery-less daughters.
A solid show
The whole thing swims along nicely in its first half. A solid show of the kind which an amateur company should be producing at this level.
But all this ground work really allows the show to take off in the second half. If anyone was wondering about the history of it – half remembering pogroms and when exactly the Russian revolution took place – it is all brought out after the interval.
The thing, though, is that while this talks of a specific time and place, giving an account of the modern history of the Jewish people it is very clear that this is just as much a metaphor for displaced people, anywhere and at any time.
If the show had been written this week, it would be talking about air strikes and chemical bombs.
Fifty three years after it was first staged, Fiddler on the Roof has grown even more powerful. This is a production which is still be packed with great tunes and quirky comedy, but it also puts that power out there, on the stage and asks us, its audience what we are going to do about it.
Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 5 – Saturday 8 April 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm; Matinees Weds, Sat: 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details: www.edtheatres.com/fiddler
Edinburgh Music Theatre website: http://edinburghtheatre.co.uk/
EMT on Facebook: edinburghmusictheatre