Omid Djalili (Tevye) and Company in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Photo: Johan Persson
Fiddler on the Roof is a fabulous show, arguably one of the best musicals of all time. Yet there’s something laboured about Daniel Evans’s new production of it at Chichester Festival Theatre. One senses that – the dancers in the wedding scene for instance – are still mentally reading their choreography notes. And far too many performers – Tracy-Ann Oberman as Golde for instance - have been cast for their acting rather than their singing ability. And for this show to come off as well as it should you need both.
“On the other hand” as Tevye (Omid Djalili) would say there is also plenty to enjoy. Djalili’s is the hardest job – everyone in the room at every performance is comparing him with Topol - and the biggest role. He certainly pulls it off. He is convincingly sincere in his quirky, funny chats with God. He sings “If I were a rich man” as well as it has ever been done and with delicious timing. He has a delightful knack of communicating with the audience with just his eyes which means that you never stop watching him. Anger, joy, deviousness, camaderie, authority, love for his daughters – he manages it all with naturalistic charm. In effect the show is Djalili’s and he effortlessly outshines everyone else.
Anther major strength is Tom Brady’s magnificent thirteen-piece orchestra, concealed on a shelf above the stage. We’re allowed a good look at them at the start of Act Two. Jerry Bock’s familiar music is beautifully and evocatively written as well as being unforgettably melodious. Brady ensures that we hear every note of orchestral detail. He also manages the excitable Klesmer thythms and the accelerating tempi pretty well. He even ensures that a difficult number like Do You Love Me? stays more or less together. Darius Luke Thompson, who creeps out of the orchestra at various points in the action, is an insouciant fiddler, perched on the roof at the beginning playing with wit, warmth and lyricism
Amongst the support roles, Gareth Snook is strong as the gruff, disappointed Lazar Wolf, the old butcher who doesn’t get to marry Hodel (Emma Kingston – good). Louis Maskell sings pleasingly as Perchik and Rose Shalloo gives us a nicely judged, bespectacled, feisty but sweetly feminine Chava.
Evans and his choreographer, Alistair David make imaginative use of Chichester’s big playing space. The blurred emergence and disappearance of the ensemble from the dark upstage space is effective. So is the use of suitcases – redolent with the topical, symbolism of a people being driven from their home villages and countries – as a versatile set (designer: Lex Brotherston). And the projection at the end of thousands of real life, early twentieth century Jewish people driven into exile really hits you between the eyes.
Omid Djalili (Tevye), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Golde) and Company in Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Photo: Johan Persson