Grove Theatre-October 2014 - Review by Frances Hall
‘Tradition’ proclaims Tevye. ‘Tradition, Tradition.....Tradition!’ replies the hearty chorus. And so we are off into the downtrodden lives of the lowly milkman and his family in the Russian-Jewish community of Anatevka 1905, just before the Russian revolution.
I know this show well, I was in it many years ago, and it is like meeting old friends as each of the well-loved songs and set pieces are re-lived. And Tradition is so much a part of the first act: the Matchmaker, the Sabbath, the Wedding, the Bottle Dance, all serving to define the lives of these simple people and highlight the enormity of the changes to come. Our guide, of course, is Tevye, played with immense skill and sensitivity by Alan Clarke. Taking on a role made so famous by the great Topol is a feat in itself, but within seconds comparisons were superfluous. Everything about the character seemed so right: costume, beard, gravelly voice, wry humour, the weight of a hard life and the love of God, family and home. The reluctant acceptance of inevitable change as little bits of tradition are chipped away with each daughter’s choice of husband, until the heartbreaking decision to disown Chava who has chosen outside the faith. The most poignant moment of this production being Tevye’s quiet lament ‘Chavaleh’ sung with such depth of love and loss.
There were some rather wonderful performances around him too. Wife Golda played by Susan Young had warmth often missing from other versions, but combined with all the feisty strength of the Jewish mother this was a fully rounded character. I would have preferred her to be busier and more dismissive in the duet ‘Do You Love Me’ but I think that was perhaps a directorial choice. The three elder daughters all had their moments and worked well together. Katie Ross’s Hodel was a little under projected in her acting scenes but sang ‘Far From The Home I Love’ with real emotion. Of the suitors, Sam Rowland’s Perchick was a suitably charming rebel but James Halling’s Fyedka, the Russian soldier with a heart, was again under projected against the feisty Chava of Ellie Reay. However, Simon Rollings as Motel brought all his experience and stage presence to the meek, mild-mannered tailor. Another beautifully crafted performance. With eldest daughter Tzeitel (Kim Albone) they made a perfect match. And there was a touch of brilliance too from live Fiddler Lynette Driver who said not a word but spoke volumes with her bow and movement.
Of the rest, it will come as no surprise to those who have seen them before that Angela Goss and Barbara Morton were spot on as the busybody Matchmaker Yente and the raging Ghost Fruma Sarah. And a quirky but likeable Rabbi (Luigi Muscella) and his smug son Mendel (Alex Wheeler) lent some much needed character to the townsfolk. MD Chris Young worked his magic on the company and was rewarded by some excellent singing, particularly in the full company numbers.
The Grove is a big stage with a lot of height and, not for the first time, I felt that in some scenes the sparse set and open lighting, though beautiful, rather dwarfed the actors. I couldn’t understand why the cottage, which I assume was hired in at considerable cost, was trucked on and off stage instead of being a focal point throughout. I’m sure Director Alan Goss had his reasons and usually his set designs are magnificent but you can only react to what you see and for me sometimes the effect was a lack of atmosphere. Usually the haunting ‘Anatevka’ brings me to tears and from then on I’m a soggy mess till the end. However with this production, beautiful and perfect as the singing was, the scene didn’t really move me. But overall this was a good tight show with a magnificent central performance from Alan Clarke, lovely music and a fittingly enjoyable 50th Anniversary production. And a real Fiddler to bring good fortune for the next 50 years. Frances Hall