It’s 1905, the height of a new wave of violent and bloody anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire. For a Jew, life is as precarious as that of a fiddler on the roof, explains Tevye, as he attempts to uphold his religious and cultural traditions. But Tevye is father to five strong-willed daughters who wish to defy tradition by choosing their own husbands rather than marrying the men that the village match maker, Yente, has found for them. Furthermore, the family is poor and the Jewish community in their small village of Anatevka is under threat from an anti-semitic Russia.
But there is music, there is love and there is joy aplenty in Anatevka and BLOC Productions brings nothing short of a celebratory party to The Bristol Hippodrome with their fine version of Fiddler on the Roof, a musical first taken to Broadway in 1964 and made famous in the 1971 film that starred Topol as the loving and enigmatic Tevye. Having seen that film as a child, I was amazed by how much of the score I remembered, each number brought to life again for me by this exceptionally large cast and a live orchestra. I’ll probably be singing ‘Sunrise Sunset’ for at least the next three years! As for ‘If I were a Rich Man’, well … Daidle deedle daidle, Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb …
The set is winningly minimalist and Richard Gorley’s lighting takes us effortlessly from one part of the village to another; especially clever are the shadows of trees in the family’s yard and the ever changing colour of the backdrop.
And all the while the fiddler plays.
As a humorous and gentle Tevye, Simon Vardakis leads the cast brilliantly, his eyes twinkling as he converses with a God he is devoted to, the love for his family bursting forth as he and his fretful, strong wife, Golde (Lucy Pope), try to reassure each other. With 80+ actors gracing the stage, the village scenes are realistic, each character finding her place with ease, thanks to Naomi Jeffery’s faultless choreography.
From the quietly haunting Sabbath Prayer, in which the rest of the village stands behind (and, ultimately, with) Tevye and his family at their candle-lit table, separated only by a thin veil (again great lighting here) to the wacky dream sequence in the couple’s bedroom, where Geraldine Gregory takes uproariously impressive flight as the ghost of Fruma-Sarah, the ensemble dressed in wonderfully colourful clothes, this amateur production is as professional as it gets.
BLOC have created a lively, energetic and very enjoyable Fiddler on the Roof, our heart-strings getting the occasional tug as a daughter is ostracised, a wedding is brought pointlessly crashing to the ground and families are forcibly moved on. Caps off to every last person who helped to bring this production together.
(The recording of history is sometimes a misleadingly beast, though, isn’t it? I hope beyond hope that our descendants won’t be making light of the devastating purge of Syrians 60 years down the line).
Fiddler on the Roof shows at The Bristol Hippodrome until 8th October