Trevor Nunn’s revival of Fiddler on the Roof is musical theatre at its best; both tender and raucous, contemplative and up lifting. First produced in 1964, the show itself is such a classic, many of the numbers are familiar even to those who’ve never seen it staged and the huge cast of characters are so vivid, they easily leap the test of time. What may come as more of a surprise is how powerfully its themes resonate today. There is no grand re-imagining of the story but such is the honesty of the performances that when the lights dim on people of ‘Anatevka’ trailing away from their home in a long subdued line, they could be any one of the dispossessed refugees we see on the news each night.

The relatively small Playhouse Theatre, has had its Victorian boxes consumed by the set of the old Ukranian town designed by Robert Jones, allowing the stage to reach forward into the audience. Having transferred from the intimate Mernier Chocolate Factory, they have retained the immersive sense of being at the heart of the town where every one knows everyone elses business. The palette is sombre, with the changing light illuminating the skies behind the silhouettes of trees and pointed roofs. But the mood is far from sombre as the rich tones of ‘Tradition!’ fills the space and Tevye warns, ‘without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof.’ The persecution of this Jewish community develops slowly and incrementally, eating into the daily preoccupations with work, money and marriage. Until, at the last it becomes clear just how shaky life is.

Andy Nyman is a natural, warm Tevye, talking to his God like a friend, caught in the impossible tension between wanting his daughters to be happy and wanting to retain his traditional role as ‘the Papa.’ The relationship between Tevye and Judy Kuhn’s as Golde is so tender and true, when their famous duet, ‘Do you Love me’ comes, it induces tears as much as a laughter. As for the famous dream sequence, invented by Tevye to convince his wife that their daughter should marry the man she loves, it’s a hilarious reminder of the sheer inventiveness of the book and lyrics by Joseph Stein and Sheldon Harnick.

Musically stunning, every ounce dark and light is explored by the musicians and singers, from the ensemble wedding song, ‘Sunrise Sunset’ to the drunken dance numbers and touching solos. Every daughter is distinct and determined, the youngest Hodel, played by Harriet Bunton particularly touching as she falls for Perchik played by Stewart Clarke. Having opened with a huge ensemble number, Jerry Bock’s score ends with the hesitant unfinished strain of the fiddler. Such a silent ending feels bold even today and must have been so powerful in New York, 1964 where many of its inhabitants had been recently exiled because of the Holocaust. Trevor Nunn’s deeply felt production with an extraordinary cast and organic design will no doubt continue to bring audiences to their feet night after night.

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