Review: Open Air Fiddler on the Roof

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Three men enter, a whole village leaves. Everyman bring Anatevka to the open air, for a faithful rendition of the classic musical.

Fiddler on the Roof, if you don’t know it, is the fifth longest-running Broadway play of all time. The story is of love and changing traditions: poor milkman Tevye’s three eldest daughters all marry. One leaves her family’s expectations for her, the second leaves the village, and number three commits the most heinous act of all: she leaves her faith. The script is legendary, each line filled with nuance and thinly veiled Jewish humour. So all that Everyman has to do is deliver it perfectly… oo, er!

The open-air format enables a wide scene, gorgeously dressed. Dust kicked up from the ground gives the village an authentic look. The opening scene sees every member of the village, finely dressed in period costumes, perform an elaborate dance.

The cast, much like Motel’s sewing machine, are good singers. Their dancing features some elaborate setpieces, often awkwardly executed. Dialogue is sometimes fudged alongside certain stage directions, but- here’s the important thing- when they mess up, they own it. They react in character- the rabbi drops his hat but remains calm. The bartender scolds a girl for dropping a bottle of brandy. Some of these characters deliver their lines a bit flat, but their ad-libbing is second to none. The lines are delivered in such a way as for me to notice nuance I didn’t even notice when I performed in Fiddler up at Blackwood Miners’ Institute earlier this year: for example, Golde is not just cleaning the house at the end because it is a crazy character trait- she is stalling her husband in a way that seems characteristic to him on the off chance her estranged daughter turns up to say goodbye.

Perhaps the biggest shame is that so much effort has been put into the stage and costumes, yet the accompanying musicians are so few. Their playing is relayed over tinny speakers, and sadly the poor sound engineering does not make up for the lack of numbers. This leads to musicians and singers often being out of sync. Sometimes this is the actors’ fault, such as when the audience are still laughing after a funny line, and the next line doesn’t get heard.

Nevertheless, this is a faithful performance, with every scene in the play played through. The church scene is particularly haunting. If you’re a fan of the film version, the only noticeable omission is Perchik’s revolution and subsequent arrest- but I don’t think this is in the script for the theatre version anyway.

The open-air format is far from a gimmick, as it gives a wider scope and the onset of darkness during the play means the sombre closing scenes play out in the gloom. Whilst this performance is far from essential for those who’ve seen Fiddler before, I would definitely recommend it if you haven’t seen the play before, or if you have only seen the inferior film version.

Fiddler on the Roof is on every day this week, 8pm at Sophia Gardens. Get your tickets here!

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