REVIEW: Fiddler On The Roof

Omid Djalili, Tracy-Ann Oberman and company. Pic by Johan Persson
Omid Djalili, Tracy-Ann Oberman and company. Pic by Johan Persson

Chichester Festival Theatre, until September 2.

Daniel Evans’s superb, detailed direction magnificently conjures a world on the cusp of change, a world undermined from within and threatened from without – an extraordinary picture which draws us in powerfully.

At the heart of it, still fighting the good fight whichever way he can, is Tevye - a simply outstanding performance from Omid Djalili as the man desperately trying to make sense of it all as his increasingly-rebellious daughters seem strangely disinclined to listen to him when it comes to marriage – a man who knows the writing’s on the wall for his whole way of life.

You sense Djalili the stand-up in his warmth and his twinkle on stage and in the way his Tevye vents his frustrations on a God who really isn’t prepared to play the game; but just as importantly, you sense a superb actor, as powerful as he is poignant, stirred to fury but also – in perhaps the night’s finest scene – urgently needing the reassurance of his wife’s love.

Playing the wife is Tracy-Ann Oberman, again an exceptional performance, Oberman hinting at the heart beating behind all the enforced pragmatism of their endangered existence.

But allowing the couple to shine is a brilliant company, everyone playing their part in a night which seems to capture the passage of history. Such a shame the CFT once again gives into its penchant for projected images. We know this kind of thing really did happen. That’s precisely the point – and projections threaten to break the spell just when we are most inclined to admire it.

This silliness part, it’s a fine, fine night – the night we’ve been waiting for after the main-house’s faltering start to the summer. Evans’s production is shot through with humour; Alistair David’s choreography is superb; and the casting of Djalili really does seem to be the stroke of genius from which all else flows.

Djalili tackles If I Were A Rich Man with relish; Do You Love Me? he delivers with the vulnerability of a man challenged in absolutely everything else in a life which seems to be running away from him.

And yet he clings on to his pride and never ever quite loses his ingenuity. The dream sequence is stage-managed to perfection, rich comedy counterpoised beautifully by the looming threat which the Russians troops represent.

The ending is as stark as it is brilliant.

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