Theatre Review: Fiddler on the Roof @ Bristol Hippodrome
`by Polly Hember
In our turbulent twenty-first century world wreaked by political upset, uncertainty and upheaval, a glimpse into 1905 and the little Jewish village Anatevka in Imperial Russia creates resonating chords that strike with nuanced force with our contemporaneous culture, as BLOC Productions presents Fiddler on the Roof at Bristol Hippodrome.
BLOC Productions handled the timeless 1964 Broadway music with vigour, resulting in an energetic and emotional interpretation of the classic tale of the warm-hearted dairy farmer Tevye, his strong-willed wife Golde and their five dowry-less daughters. Opening with the monologue and song detailing the importance of ‘Tradition’, Tevye (Simon Vardakis) and the 80-strong ensemble set the tone for the night with an impressive, grand production. The importance of tradition and its perturbing relationship to religion, community and modernity is paramount to this performance. Tevye’s three eligible daughters Tzietel (Grace Macdonald), Hodel (Katherine Sharp) and Chava (Sarah Huckle) are helpless as they watch their fate being decided by the hilarious Matchmaker Yente (Amber Andrews). The chemistry between the daughters blossomed in their song ‘Matchmaker’ as they come together to realise the worrying potentialities of the tradition of arranged marriages, whilst still eliciting a number of light-hearted laughs from the audience as Macdonald dons a black shawl and mimics the aged Yente’s overzealous affectations.
As each of the daughters finds love outside of tradition and faith, Tevye is conflicted between the strict religious community and his compassionate nature and desire to see his daughters happy. Vardakis is excellent as Tevye, reminiscent of the original Zero Mostel in his depiction as a big, burly character with a similarly big, compassionate heart. He is funniest in his soliloquies where he turns to the audience to talk to a seemingly indifferent God to weigh up each decision, starting with effusive outrage and disbelief at his daughter’s actions and then employing his signature phrase, “on the other hand” to offer multiple and endearing explanations and eventually change his mind.
Lucy Pope performs with sharp vivacity that resists sentimentalising Golde, conveying her strong willed sense of character with an equally sharp sense of wit that cuts across Tevye’s broader staged comedy. The rendition of ‘Do You Love Me’ managed to be both amusing and heart-warming, and was one of the highlights of the show.
Director Alex Turasiewicz has done brilliantly in illuminating the humour and humanity that underpin the tale, and alongside the work of choreographer Naomi Jeffery whose traditional staging of the dances worked to create a highly energetic, forceful and unabashed interpretation of the classic. The emotional performance was held up by each member of the cast; most touchingly by the young and talented Huckle playing Chava, who in marrying outside her faith has to deal with crippling estrangement from her loving family. Emotive, feeling and genuinely stirring, BLOC Productions have managed to balance the delightful comedy and the wrought backdrop of the emotional complexities of a culture caught in the juxtaposition between tradition and modernity, past and future, the public and private, family loyalty and romantic love. The strict oppression of the community and Imperial Russian pressure is contrasted by effusive performances, exuberant dance, rich staging and lighting.
BLOC Productions have succeeded in delivering a feel-good show that also offers deeper, pointed human truths and connections to our upsetting contemporaneous culture with sublime tact. Left at the end, exiled from Anatevka by violent Russian force, the broken community travels together with a universal search for happiness, basic human rights and a better future for their children. Parallels form between 1905 Anatevka and the current migrant crisis, and the production ends with simultaneous jarring bleakness, but also tentative, hopeful possibilities as Tevye and the community have embraced modernity, marrying tradition, progress and change.
Book your tickets now to get to see the BLOC Productions fantastic, heartfelt and emotive performance for yourself!