By Abbie Gallagher
While a staple for theatre societies, classic musicals can be tricky territory. There’s a higher chance of an audience, but you also run the risk of a dated script and a production that can be stale, even offensive (I’ll never forget the amateur production of South Pacific I witnessed that decided blackface was a good idea. Seriously. Of all the shows, you chose that one for blackface? Did you even read the script?!?).
Thankfully, Willoughby Theatre Company’s production of Fiddler On The Roof is none of those things. On the contrary, it’s quite possibly the best amateur production I have ever seen. Set in the Jewish village of Anatevka in 1905, Fiddler on the Roof takes place on the cusp of the Russian revolution. Local milkman Tevye struggles to maintain his proud Jewish traditions in the face of a changing world, culminating in his three oldest daughters wishing to marry for love. Fiddler On The Roof’s success rises and falls on the casting of protagonist Tevye, one of the most demanding roles in musical theatre. Director Andrew Benson struck gold with the casting of Dennis Clements. He’s a marvel on stage, maintaining the perfect energy level while still portraying the struggle, humour and, ultimately, heartbreak of this loveable man. Alongside him is Belinda Delaney, giving plenty of sass as Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde. Imogen Abba, Dylan Hayley and Mikaela Dane are strong yet beautifully vulnerable as Tevye’s daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava respectively. While there are some weaker links in the supporting cast in terms of accents and characterisation, Matt Hourigan hits just the right blend of passion and mystery in his portrayal of Perchik, while Aleksander Justin’s Fyedka was a favourite. His beautiful tenor voice soars above the audience every time he’s onstage, and he’s also a very fine actor. The village is rounded out with a fantastic ensemble of colourful personalities, who never miss a beat.
Music Director Matt Herne deserves special mention for his excellent work. While Fiddler on the Roof’s score is rightly treasured, it’s not easy, full of complex melodies and a decent sized band. On top of that, with over 50 voices, this could have been a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, with his obvious talent, the music is a joy to listen to, with a very strong orchestra which crucially never overpowers the vocals. Of course, this is also down to very good sound mixing!
Finally, choreographer Stephanie Edmonds pulled off some truly spectacular choreography here. Though the opening number Tradition was a bit shaky, presumably from opening night jitters, the rest of the show did not disappoint. From the party atmosphere in To Life, to a hilarious dream sequence in Tevye’s Dream complete with wire work, the dancing will have jaws dropping in amazement. An impressive set draws the audience right into the world, and the use of lighting clearly establishes Tevye’s private thoughts from the action, climaxing in a wrenching scene where Tevye turns away his daughter Chava through an inspired utilisation of the scrim. Andrew Benson is to be applauded for his delicate direction. With period pieces, it’s easy to forget the people of the era were living, breathing individuals. Fiddler on the Roof, and particularly this incarnation of it, humanises the people of the past and gives a fair few laughs along the way. Because when you strip the story right back, it’s really about ordinary people living out their lives during a very precarious time in history.
You owe it to yourself to see this show. It’s absolutely brilliant and you’ll be reminded why this show is a classic in the first place. Willoughby’s production is of the highest quality. You’d be forgiven for forgetting this isn’t a professional venture, but it might as well be. Mazel tov to all involved.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.