Theatre Review: An Exuberant Fiddler On The Roof At The Playhouse
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The grimmest chapters of War and Peace seem quite a cheerful tale compared to the depressive narrative of Fiddler on the Roof. A brief reminder: this is a musical set in Tsarist Russia in 1905 where impoverished people sing endlessly about tradition as though being broke and occasionally getting beaten up by the Cossacks, is such a great thing.
No cliche has been left unturned in Trevor Nunn's thorough and intense production recently transferred from the Menier to the Playhouse. Dressed entirely in shades of charcoal, soot and lampblack, wild-eyed women and wild bearded men wail the klezmer-inspired anthems with their eyes rolling heavenwards and their arms in the air as though their lives depend on it.
Andy Nyman does sterling work to bring maudlin patriarchal milkman Tevye off the page, breaking the fourth wall to chat with the Almighty, and rubbing his arthritic joints to punctuate Sheldon Harnick's 'deidle deidle deidle dumb' lyrics in If I Were A Rich Man. Elsewhere, the daughters are indistinguishable, the redoubtable Louise Gold has to punch all her lines to get anything out of Golde the Matchmaker, and bringing the wonderful Judy Kuhn over from America mostly to peel potatoes for the first act seems a waste of her considerable talents.
The Playhouse has gone full shtetl with an ambitious extension of the set round the auditorium so you feel part of the village of Anatevka. If you like Fiddler on the Roof, already, you will love this version. If you don't, it won't convince you — but that's the fault of the 1964 script, not the exuberant 2019 production.
Fiddler on the Roof, Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue WC2N 5DE, £20-£127. Until 28 September.
Last Updated 02 April 2019