Tradition – something the Everyman has always been respectful of, but likes to add its own playful, unique twist. In the last twelve months alone, those Two Gents of Verona were yanked into the Swingin’ Sixties and Madame Bovary went meta; but with Fiddler on the Roof, its first production for 2017 and the debut of the theatre’s new company, only a swift, poignant epilogue jolted this show out of its original Broadway roots.
And tradition is indeed the main theme of this classic musical – not the usual fodder for this particular Liverpool stage, you will agree; the tale of Tevye, the turn-of the century Russian peasant wishing he were a rich man, battling the wills of his five daughters and keeping the Jewish faith, as sinister forces infiltrate the peace of an historic village, and modern life starts to shift the balance of power.
This Fiddler is, should you have been living under a rock, the first outing for the Everyman’s new company – 14 actors who will be involved in every in-house production for the next six months (a modern take on the theatre’s own rep tradition that previously launched the careers of our Julie Walters, Bill Nightys et al). The excitement around this new endeavour was palpable on press night; and almost immediately the group of players presented themselves as a genuinely integrated, captivating, and coherent whole.
As such, ensemble numbers like Sunrise, Sunset and Tevye’s Dream were a real theatrical delight; a deliberately rough and ready design and low-key orchestration under MD George Francis kept the production more earthy than showy, and it was all the better for it. It was a stripped-back piece of theatre performed in the round, that gave it an especially human touch and immediacy. Beautifully-textured costumes contrasted the threadbare layers of Russian winters with silky, Sabbath finery.
Patrick Brennan anchored the piece as conflicted Tevye, complemented by the wonderfully expressive Melanie La Barrie as wife Golde, each trapped in the circumstances of changing times (their duet, Do You Love Me?, captured this especially well).
As director, the Everyman’s own Gemma Bodinetz has never shied away from lengthy running times and Fiddler on the Roof proved no exception, with a one hour 40 minute first act alone. And, as per, it is not something to be put off by; the story flows well, the cast gel superbly, and the show, set as it is in 1905, resonates in today’s political landscape even more than the theatre must have anticipated when it was first programmed in.
The importance of community is a message clearly at the heart of this production, and sets out the stall for what is to come. The new rep proved themselves more than capable for the varied challenges ahead, and left a delighted audience keen for the coming season.