They’ve extended the stage and the centre gangway wends a crooked path through the seats to a beautifully realised village square from the early 20th century. The village in question being Anatevka, the Russian setting for this beloved show. And it’s never been anything less than beloved ever since it stormed Broadway in 1964 becoming an instant box office smash and critical hit. A successful film followed and it’s been revived non-stop ever since.
The story of village and family traditions upended by civil unrest in the pre-revolution countryside is laced with comedy, pathos and romance and wonderful, wonderful songs infused with the music of Jewish folk tradition.
The central character is Tevye a milkman who has three daughters of marriageable age. He must reconcile himself to each making unconventional marital choices. The first marries for love, rejecting the husband chosen for her in the traditional way, by the village matchmaker, the second, without her father’s permission, marries a radical, and there’s worse in store when the third child reveals her chosen husband.
I’ve honestly lost count of the number of different productions I’ve seen but this one will stay with me because of the way director Trevor Nunn has utilised first the Menier Chocolate Factory and now the Playhouse to present this huge sprawling show, usually presented in big theatres, as a close up experience. The whole piece shines afresh now that we’re almost sat amongst the action and scenes I’ve grown tired of were suddenly moving or funny again.
Andy Nyman is a shorter, feistier Tevye than the benevolent patriarch we’re used to. He never lets us forget that life is a daily struggle in amongst the whimsical philosophising the character is given to.
Broadway star Judy Kuhn makes the most of her role as his wife, Golda. It’s always been a shame that this figure doesn’t get a solo number but Kuhn brings such quiet nobility to the role that she makes as much of an impact as her husband. We’re just as interested in her reactions as events unfold.
Indeed all the acting is pulled into unusually sharp focus by Nunn as you’d expect from our leading director of Shakespeare. And the individual daughters and their suitors are better defined than I’ve ever seen.
Go for a fascinating rediscovery of a classic musical and expect to fall in love with it, whether for the first time, or all over again.