I wasn’t sure quite what to expect with Fiddler On The Roof, the musical set in a small Jewish community in turn of the century Russia, my recollections of the film are shaky at best. However it’s already off to a good start before you get a chance to sit down as it’s a pretty interesting period for a show to be set in.
1905 was the year of the first Russian Revolution, when Russian was in all manner of social, political and economic turmoil. Not only that but the period 1903-1906 saw a bloody series of Pogroms (large scale ethnic riots) against Jews in Russia in which up to 2000 Jews were killed. Basically not a good time to be a Russian peasant, especially if Jewish, one of the driving factors in Jewish emigration to the USA and Europe at the time.
So, against this back drop of woe we find ourselves with Tevye (played by Joe McGann), a poor dairyman who lives with a wife and five daughters in Anatevka, a small rural Jewish settlement that has so far escaped the troubles. Tevye is a man with a lot on his plate; scraping a living, finding matches for his daughters, a lame milk horse, not to mention the fear of an uncertain future at the hands of torch carrying lynch mobs.
The core of the story then revolves around the long suffering Tevye and his efforts to do the right thing and marry off his daughters correctly. His daughters however, have other ideas and are drawn into the arms of increasingly unsuitable matches. Tevye is then torn between deep rooted traditions and his love for his daughters, but as he says "Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof’. Cue fiddling and Yiddish exclamations.
This adaptation of Fiddler On The Roof is pretty flat, there were no stand out moments which redeemed its three bum numbing hours, with the possible exception of the big Russian and Jewish dancing scenes which had a certain novelty appeal. The faux Russian accents on offer were pretty grating for the most part, not helped when they invariably lurched into spells of crisp RADA English for the songs, think Rasputin with a Mary Poppins alter ego. The most convincing performance was from Motel a poor tailor who rescues Tevyes first daughter from a horrendous arranged marriage, his physical manner and delivery was one of the few that hit the mark.
What really got me though is the missed opportunities, the storyline has some darkly emotive themes which lurk in the background but it just doesn’t delve too far into them, a facet of its faithful look back to the 60s original. This is a shame as it’s these dark themes that give you real emotional contrast against the warmth of the love at the stories heart. It was entertaining in its way of course, there are plenty of fun community frolics and the interludes when Tevye is dryly remonstrating with God, but on the whole a disappointingly lacklustre show.
Fiddler On The Roof plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 8 March 2008