Theatre in Wales

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A cracking story, punctuated with fine music

Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Fiddler on the Roof , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , July 29, 2006
Aberystwyth Summer Musical by Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Fiddler on the Roof This review first appeared in the Western Mail

For a cracking story, punctuated with fine music, lively dance and quick wit, look no further than Fiddler on the Roof (directed by Michael Bogdanov and currently running at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre until 26th August).

Spectacular sets, memorable dance sequences, evocative live music and carefully honed characterisation provide us with an entertaining and sensitively portrayed insight into one Jewish family’s struggle to find happiness, security and love amidst the persecutory atmosphere of pre-revolution Russia.

Tevye, a poor and fiercely proud dairyman (superbly characterised by Peter Karrie) is faced with the realisation that his own children’s expectations have radically altered from those of his youth. At a time when the relatively safe certainties of “the old life” are being challenged on all fronts, this well intentioned father’s loves, fears, anxieties and hopes are conveyed through memorably delivered and stirring numbers like Tradition and If I were a Rich Man.

Bravo, Anthony Williams for the fittingly fast paced choreography of the village scenes which physically capture the atmosphere of a community in the midst of change and dislocation. Tradition and modernity are juxtaposed by way of a plethora of contrasting and meticulously staged scenes – from the evocatively serene reenactment of long cherished practices such as the Jewish Sabbath prayers to Tzeitel’s Wedding in which the old customs are swept to one side, and men and women cavort around the dance floor together in an unorthodox, unfettered and exuberant display of personal freedom.

Live music, delivered on a fully extended stage by an accomplished period-costumed orchestra, draws us into the highs and lows of the characters’ lives, without any sense of incongruity. From being a dramatically integral part of the drinking scene in which Tevye and Lazar sing a barn-storming rendition of To Life, to providing a more understated melodic musical backdrop when Hodel (movingly portrayed by Llinos Daniel) sings Far From The Home I Love before catching the approaching train to Siberia – the orchestra and Michael Newton’s musical direction is second to none.

An ebullient sense of community striving to exist against all the odds is created, not only by the overwhelming physicality of the production, but also through detailed characterisation. Examples of finely delineated characters include the deliciously meddling and gossipy village matchmaker (Debden Clarke) and the wealthy, powerful but ultimately undermined butcher, Lazar, who is compelled to come to terms with the fact that in a community in social flux, money can no longer guarantee the love of a young woman (Ieuan Rhys, stand up!). Comedy and sentiment are married well in this production, and no more so than in the most poignant scene between Tevye and his wife, Golde (in an enchanting performance by Andrea Miller) who fondly look back on their married life together with the beautiful number, Do You Love Me?

The exciting and continuously evolving set design (well done, Rachel Canning!) matches the energetic pace of the production, replete with subtle backdrop colour changes (lighting design by Grant Barden) that evoke the shifting emotions experienced by the inhabitants of a village under threat. The enigmatically silhouetted form of the eponymous fiddler on the roof, the swirling marital bed of Tevye and Golde when beset by the ghostly apparition of Grandma and Frume Sarah, the distant sight of an approaching train, the cow cart that Tevye pushes and pulls everywhere – are all fine examples of the way in which this production’s design team have embraced the challenges of a complex narrative with creative aplomb.

A novel palette of sound, sight, colour, melody, movement and fine acting brings an old story about a father coping with his wilful daughters to life afresh, in this imaginative and highly engaging production. This is a summer show that will delight all the family! A must see!

Reviewed by: Alison Forsyth

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