Wednesday 15 August 2018

Fiddler on the Roof

Curve, Leicester
14th August, 2018

'To life! L'chaim!'

Tradition. A theme at the heart of Bock, Harmick and Stein's Fiddler on the Roof. A theme which also captures the annual community productions held at Curve every summer, a custom that has quite rightly become an institution in itself. From Bernstein to Shakespeare via Sondheim, Bart and Larson, Curve’s choice of production has always been impeccable; big shows for a big stage and even bigger companies, and there’s nothing that makes my heart sing more than seeing my local theatre populated with local people doing what they love. And with Fiddler Curve have excelled themselves yet again. Featuring their largest company on record, director Sarah Ingram’s production sees over 100 people from the community coming together to present what is arguably the greatest ‘community’ musical in the canon.

To say this production is epic would be an understatement. Populous, bustling, humming with life; Ingram has constructed an enclave of highly detailed, immersive communal existence. Anatevka is realised in Al Parkinson's ramshackle of houses, erected so tightly that the families literally live on top of each other. It's a smart and understated design (I know this may seem anomalous considering the enormity of the production as a whole) that allows the ensemble to become a living, breathing set piece. Throughout the action the everyday is omnipresent: wives and daughters sweep floors, a beggar steals bagels from the local baker, children play, locals kiss the Mezuzah on entering the home - these are just a few of the cultural minutiae that Ingram celebrates, details that may go unnoticed, but altogether enrich the piece.

I have always enjoyed the sheer scale of Curve's community productions. Choruses are full-bodied and hearty, crowds are raucous, and the eye is drawn to a multitude of entertaining titbits. Nevermore has this been evident than here in the spectacular wedding scene at the end of act 1. So joyous, so giddy, so sweeping, I could have lept up an danced along! Melanie Knott triumphs in reproducing Jerome Robbins' original choreography, drawing the best from a diverse cast. Movement and blocking for a cast that big must have been a logistical headache! Knott's sympathetic rendering of Robbins' classic routines is touching and organic, by turns pulsing with machismo and liltingly whimsical.

Amidst the cast of local theatre-lovers, stand outs include Debbie Longley's Golde, the prosaic anchor to her hypothesising husband, Longley has a stellar voice and warmth of character; the trio of love-struck daughters are played with poise and youthful nobility by Lauren Russell (Tzeitel), Hannah Willars (Hodel) and Rose Caldwell (Chava); while Peter Larkin (no stranger to community theatre thanks to his experience at The Little Theatre) balances religious reverance with wanton eccentricity as the Priest. Fresh from playing Elizabeth Proctor in Curve's The Crucible, Eleanor Page's Fiddler has not a single line of dialogue, yet her impeccable playing and omnipresence is brimming with characterful expression, grounding her strange, moving and believable unspoken connection with Tevye. 

However, it is Bill Hinds' Tevye that provides a centre of gravity in the production. Hinds  displays a dry wit and oratory melifluousness, matched by his physicality in the role. Using his hands as philosophical instruments, Hinds reaches out to the heavens, wishing to pluck answers from the ether. His soliloquys grappling with the frictions of tradition, change and progression are engrossing and rather haunting.

For Curve's tenth anniversary, they have taken a musical with enduring appeal and great themes of the unifying powers of love and community in times of major social upheaval, and paired it with a production that embodies a hymn to these issues. The community of Anatevka is imbued with colour and depth thanks to Ingram and Knott's passionate storytelling. As always, the professionalism and commitment from all must be applauded, as does Curve for embracing such a diverse company and the logistical challenges that come with a large cast. Long may the 'tradition' continue!

Fiddler on the Roof plays at Curve until 19th August.

The company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photograph: Pamela Raith.

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