Whether it’s Britain and America trying to keep people out, or victims of conflict in countries such as Syria and Iraq desperately trying to escape, migration has rarely been out of the news in recent months. So it’s very appropriate that the Everyman’s first big production of the year is a revival of Fiddler On The Roof, the Sixties musical about a family affected by the forced migration of Jews in early 20th century Russia. It’s also the first outing for the Everyman’s new repertory company – another revival, this time of an idea. In the past theatres often had their own groups of actors, who over the course of a season would appear in a variety of different plays. The practice fell out of fashion but the Everyman has brought it back, inevitably evoking memories of those heady days in the Seventies and Eighties when the theatre’s company included the likes of Julie Walters, Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite.
And we’re pleased to report that the new venture has got off to a cracking start, with an absorbing show that manages to be both funny and moving in equal measure. There’s a commanding lead performance from Patrick Brennan as Tevye, the role famously played on stage and screen by Topol. He’s a Jewish dairyman living with his wife and five daughters in a rural Russian village. He faces domestic strife, with his three oldest daughters asserting their independence and resisting the Yiddish tradition of arranged marriages. But his wider community is under threat too, as edicts from the Tsar ordering evictions of Jews move ever closer to the village that has long been their home.
Brennan is especially effective during the character’s many soliloquies, as he struggles out loud with the challenges presented by the brutal realities of religious persecution, and the conflicts within his family between progress and tradition. His perplexed conversations with God and with himself often have a wry humour that’s very entertaining, and Brennan’s performance expertly captures Tevye’s essentially warmhearted and well-meaning nature.
He’s ably supported by the rest of a large cast, including Melanie La Barrie as Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde, Laura Dos Santos as his strong-willed oldest daughter Tzeitel and Dean Nolan as Motel, the timid, impoverished tailor she wants to marry. Pauline Daniels is on good form as Yente, the village’s sly matchmaker.
There are several memorable songs (including of course If I Were A Rich Man), atmospheric music from a band of very talented players and some spectacularly exuberant dancing – dances which poignantly evoke the spirit and vitality of a community and a culture threatened with extinction.
Numerous pieces of rough wooden furniture evoke a sense of rustic simplicity, and inventive use is made of the stage’s multiple exits and entrances. The closing procession of displaced villagers is hauntingly reminiscent of the newsreel footage we see on our television screens almost every night.
The Everyman’s new repertory company may have chosen an established classic for their first production, but the topicality of Fiddler On The Roof’s themes puts it firmly in the theatre’s tradition of relevant, thought-provoking drama. It’s good to see such a confident beginning to a new chapter in the Everyman’s illustrious history.
**** A barnstorming mix of tears and laughter
Photos: Stephen Vaughan
Fiddler On The Roof continues at the Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 11 March, and returns to the theatre later in the year. For more information, click HERE.