With its determination to find humour in race, religion and the bleakest of situations, Fiddler On The Roof often feels more akin to a Croft and Lloyd sitcom than turn-of-the-century Russian literature.
Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz’s new production – the first with the Everyman’s new 14-strong repertory company and based on the long-running Broadway show – is certainly funny.
With a bare set and minimal props the cast certainly find plenty of humour and there are some pleasing grace notes that appear to have emerged from rehearsals. The odd look askance, an occasional double-take. It suggests a cast as ease with itself as it embarks on the Everyman’s intriguing five-production company run.
Patrick Brennan as Tevye, the central role forever associated with Topol, is pivotal to the story and to the success of this new production. He plays both comedy and pathos lightly and has a winning take with the musical numbers. As a result there are no jarring gearchanges and it’s easy to see why the folk in the Ukrainian shtetl of Anatevka respect this affable man so.
Philip Roth reportedly described Fiddler On The Roof as ‘shtetl kitsch’ and there’s something in that. There’s a dissonance to a musical set during anti-semitic pogroms, then again the suffering of Jews seems to be fair game in entertainment – their forbearance and stoicism seems to have been harnessed as an artform.
It’s only ever a few moments away from a Bart-ish musical number or a lovely spot of choreography – Tevye’s dream and the bottle dance are memorable scenes – but there’s still an ambivalence in Fiddler On The Roof, an acknowledgement of the ongoing tension between tradition and change.
A final scene showing the family – shorn of three of Tevye’s five daughters and pushing their belongings to the United States on a cart – surrounded by modern passers-by feels rather unnecessary. Given Fiddler On The Roof’s themes of religious persecution, forced emigration and diaspora, the play hardly needs one of these just-in-case-you-didn’t-notice epilogues that now seem mandatory.
Still, seeing the ragged Russian Jews bowed but not broken, in search of another home, leaves the viewer with the lasting impression that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Fiddler On The Roof
Until 11 March