Fiddler on the Roof

Date 13th October 2022
Society St Pauls Musical Theatre Company
Venue The Gladstone Theatre
Type of Production Musical
Director Brenda Davies
Musical Director Sian James
Choreographer Allison Bentley Jones
Written By Joseph Stein

Report

Author: Joanne Rymer

Joanne Rymer

Fiddler on the Roof

St Pauls Theatre Company

Gladstone Theatre

13/10/2022

This, then, is an evening to be celebrated as a spikily poignant reminder of what it is to be human in politically dark times. Both whirlingly energetic and achingly moving, it marks itself out straight away as one of the most uplifting nights possible to be had right now.

Set in Anatevka a small Russian village in 1905 on the eve of the Russian Revolution, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman, the father of five daughters. He begins by explaining that by following religious and cultural tradition it is possible to remain balanced, otherwise one’s position becomes as precarious as that of a fiddler on the roof.

However, there are challenges to his beloved traditions, the three eldest of his daughters all wish to marry for love and each of their chosen partners takes them further away from the customs of Tevye’s faith. Furthermore, the Tsar has issued an edict that the Jews must leave their village. Tevye spends a lot of time questioning God’s will, while never deviating from the belief that God’s will is right.

Director Brenda Davies struck gold with the casting of David Oliver. He’s a tour de force  on stage, maintaining the perfect energy level while still portraying the struggle, humour and, ultimately, heartbreak of this loveable man. Alongside him is the talented Marie Williams, giving plenty of sass as Tevye’s long suffering wife Golde. Olivia Morrell, Annie Green, and Libbie-Bentley-Jones are strong yet beautifully vulnerable as Tevye’s daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava respectively. Tevye’s youngest daughters: Shprintze played on the evening I attended by Awen Kingsley, Bielke played on the evening I attended by Sophie Roberts, both were absolutely charming. It’s wonderful to see young talent coming through in our amateur societies gives us hope for the future.

As Tzeitel, Oliva Morrell is ideally paired with Callum Makin as Motel, the tailor, while Annie Green (Hodel) is likewise appropriately linked to Jack Darker as Perchik the teacher. Finally, Libbie Bentley-Jones (Chava) is partnered with Dominic Williams as Fyedka a Russian soldier. Each young couple makes full use of their time in the spotlight as they plead their cases for acceptance and recognition among the family and their village.

Praise here for the costume wardrobe mistress Jenny King, they were thoroughly researched: they were truly authentic, being respectful of the Jewish history and religious traditions. Congratulation Jenny and Tea

At times it is hard not to compare the story with much of what’s going on in the world today, especially as a whole village sets off to seek refuge in new towns and cities far from the homes they are forced to leave. That said, the sympathetic nature of the Constable sensitively played by Craig Manning tasked with overseeing the eviction is a reminder that the men on the ground are rarely inherently evil but just following orders.

David Oliver as Tevye and Marie Williams and his wife Golde, plus a large cast of St Paul’s Theatre Company members old and young deliver a storming performance blending moments of poignancy, anguish and joy. There are many strong individual performances, my highlights including Tevye’s 'If I Were a Rich Man ‘which he delivers as if he’s thinking out loud for the first time, the effect is comically touching. However it’s his duet with Golde, 'Do You Love Me’ that brings tears to your eye: a show highlight for me.

From the simple but very effective sets to the sound that can only be achieved by a live orchestra. Musical Director Sian James deserves special mention for her excellent work on this production. While Fiddler on the Roofs score is rightly treasured, it’s not easy, full of complex melodies plus over thirty voices, this could have been a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, supported by very talented musicians who crucially never overpower the vocals, it is a joy to listen to.

Brenda Davies is to be applauded for her delicate direction of this well-known musical tale. Because when you strip the story right back, it’s really about ordinary people living out their lives during a very precarious time in history.

Among the sizable and talented ensemble of actors are Brian Dodd who’s terrific as Lazar Wolf, with Allison Wootton as the acerbic and funny Yente, Barry Prescott as the Rabbi and Caleb Williams-Hunt as his son, while Alli Bentley-Jones and Sue  Rannard very nearly steal the show as Golde's grandmother and Fruma Sarah during an especially vivid dream sequence. 

Finally, choreographer Allie Bentley-Jones pulled off some truly spectacular choreography here. From the opening number Tradition with full cast of around thirty five people, to the party atmosphere of ‘To Life’, to a hilarious dream sequence in ‘Tevye’s Dream’. The village is rounded out with a fantastic ensemble of colourful personalities, who never miss a beat. Without control the Gladstone stage could have appeared too crowded, not so with this show. Congratulations on The Bottle Dance, it was phenomenal.  Well done Allie.

This is a delightful production which will remind you why this show is a classic in the first place. St Paul’s production is of the highest quality. You’d be forgiven for forgetting this isn’t a professional venture, but it might as well be.

Mazel tov to all involved.

Joanne Rymer