reviewed at the Frinton Greensward Tent on 14 August
A blue and red striped circus tent pitched on Frinton’s iconic Greensward makes an ideal place in which to stage a musical which sets impermanence against traditions.it is an indoor space which protects from but never can quite blocks out the world outside.
Edward Max’s production of Fiddler on the Roof puts an unusual spin on Aleichem’s Tevye stories about the Jewish community of Anatevka in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.
He reverses the idea of a story about small people helplessly manipulated by the puppet-masters of Heaven and the Tsarist régime and makes the destruction-minded official Russian authorities into actual puppets. The dead grandmother and wife of the dream sequence are also rod puppets.
The musical director for the fifteen-strong cast – most of whom also play musical instruments and have strong singing voices – is Michael Webborn with Darius Thompson as the eponymous fiddler.
Beth Colley’s setting of jagged wooden struts suggests the isolated rural location while Neil Gordon’s costume designs employ an earth-coloured palette, with the exception of matchmaker Yente (Claire Greenway)’s black bombazine.
The lighting design of Adam Carree takes us from day to night, winter to summer with a particularly effective shadow play for the candle-lit Sabbath supper. If the puppet design is down to Colley, then whoever taught the various cast members to manipulate them also deserves proper credit.
Dougal Lee’s Tevye dominates the story, as he should. His almost fanatical sense of tradition balances with an equally powerful sense of God’s omnipotence; there are times when you want to shake modernity into the man, but you can’t help admiring his stubbornness.
Golde, Tevye’s wife adds her own dose of practicality; their lives are after all subject to whims and decrees from far-off St Petersburg. Laurel Dougall gives us a proper sense of this as she comes to terms with the very different aspirations of her three older daughters.
Eleanor Toms as Teitzel, who prefers tailor Motel (Laurie Denman) to wealthy widower Lazar (Stephen John Davies), is the first to fly what is becoming a constrictive nest. Second daughter Hodel (Leah Penston) is happy to join Perchik (Ifan Gwilym-Jones) in his political radicalism, even if theat means exile to Siberia.
Sister Chava (Rebecca Ferrin) makes the most disruptive choice of the three – gentile revolutionary Fyedfka (Rob Gathercole).All three pairs cope well with their musical numbers and also convey a real sense of what are sometimes conflicting feelings.
Choreographer Gabriella Bird has a real sense of folk and country dance and these numbers go with a proper swing and exuberance. Overall it’s a production which would not disgrace a larger stage and a lavishly-funded company. In the interests of clarity, though, I would suggest modifying those over-heavy Jewish and Russian accents.
Four and a half-star rating.
Fiddler on the Roof runs at the Frinton Greensward Tent until 19 August with matinées on 16 and 19 August.