Tag Archives: Stewart Clarke

Fiddler on the Roof
★★★★★

Menier Chocolate Factory

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 6th December 2018

★★★★★

“warm and intimate, yet vast and epic at the same time”

 

“Fiddler on the Roof” is based on the stories of one of the most famous and beloved of all Jewish writers; Sholem Aleichem, who came to be known as the ‘folk singer’ of the Russian shtetl. Written between 1894 and 1914 the stories were a series of stand-alone monologues told by the character of Tevye to the reader. Aleichem had started to amalgamate these into a dramatic adaptation but died before he could finish it, but what he had already managed to do in his tales was to capture the hunger and the passion of his people trying to survive under desperate circumstances, but also the humour and the irony.

The often-staged musical has reflected this with varying degrees of success, but it is safe to say that Trevor Nunn’s revival hits the notes perfectly with a truly magical mix of mockery and menace. The story centres on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family’s lives, not least of which is the edict of the Tsar that evicts Jews from Russia. At the same time, he is coping with the strong-willed actions of his three eldest daughters who wish to marry for love and whose choice of husband moves further away from the customs of the faith and heritage that he is, sometimes reluctantly, clinging onto. This production brings to the fore the deeply rich humour of Joseph Stein’s book. But we are never quite allowed to escape the shadow of the impending threat of exile.

Andy Nyman makes this show his own with his portrayal of the patriarch ruled by his wife, Golde (a perfectly pitched performance from Judy Kuhn). Nyman’s effortless stage presence sculpts a wholly heartfelt and honest portrayal of his character, veering between tradition and compassion, and bending his beliefs, where necessary, for love. He knows exactly when to switch on and off the comedy, a skill matched by the entire ensemble. The same sensitivity is applied to Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics. Often unfairly branded as kitsch, the poignancy and the irony are accentuated by the fine performances. And combined with Jerry Bock’s sumptuous score, orchestrated for an eight-piece band, it is an exceptionally moving piece of musical theatre.

Choreographer Matt Cole remains faithful to Jerome Robbins’ original which is a feast for the eye. In fact, all our senses are treated to this outstanding rendition. Full of belly laughs it is a cry from the heart. The gorgeous strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” segue into a euphoric wedding dance which, in turn, is broken by the arrival of a vicious tsarist pogrom.

It is warm and intimate, yet vast and epic at the same time. It speaks softly to each of us yet its message shouts out to all of us. The source material is over a century old, but it is still sadly topical and the final scene where the villages flee their homeland is breathtakingly stirring. The musical ends not with a bang but a whisper. Not with a chorus line but a band of silent souls heading towards an uncertain future. The lone fiddler is beckoned, and he steps down from the roof to follow them.

All that can follow this is the standing ovation this production deserves. A production that is heading towards a far from uncertain future.     

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson

 


Fiddler on the Roof

Menier Chocolate Factory until 9th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018

 

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The Rink – 4 Stars

Rink

The Rink

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 29th May 2018

★★★★

“The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are”

 

We’ve all had that moment, when having to pack up a room or leave a house; and each possession, as it gets boxed up, can transport us back in time. What should be a straightforward task becomes an extended stroll down memory lane. We know we are squandering hours that could be put to better use, but still relishing every moment. Kander and Ebb’s musical “The Rink” takes this as its central theme and has a similar effect: you feel as though you should be doing something more important yet, within minutes, you are absorbed and let yourself be swept along by the Proustian reminiscences of the lead characters.

Anna is the owner of a dilapidated roller skating rink on the boardwalk of a decaying seaside resort, who has decided to sell it to developers. Her plans are complicated when her estranged daughter, Angel, returns home after a seven-year absence seeking to reconnect with the people and places she left behind and to patch things up with her mother. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, the two of them deal with their pasts in their attempt to reconcile and move on with their lives. The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are.

There is a nod to Sondheim’s “Follies”, though with less depth. Terrence McNally’s book is a somewhat slim affair and so the onus needs to ride on Kander and Ebb’s score and the performances. Caroline O’Connor’s Anna (pronounced ‘Honour’, deliberately or not, in this version with the slightly overdone accents) is a powerhouse of a performance, slipping seamlessly from her acerbic dialogue into stirring song. Gemma Sutton is the perfect foil as the prodigal, rebellious daughter and, as her character’s name suggests, has the voice of an angel.

They both possess the wit and comic timing required for the roles, which is matched by the strong support of the male ensemble. Stewart Clarke is in remarkably fine voice as the wayward, absent husband and father figure, and Ross Dawes as the ‘voice-of-conscience’ grandfather is quite compelling – not to mention his show stopping moves on roller skates. The close-knit cast make Fabian Aloise’s innovative choreography seem easy. Accompanied by a seven-piece band (though sounding like a much fuller orchestra) they skate, dance, laugh, cry and sing through the magnificent, yet seldom revived score. Like the abandoned rink of the title, it has been neglected for too long and this return to the stage is a welcome reminder of Kander and Ebb’s magic.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell

 


The Rink

Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June

 

Related
Also by Kander & Ebb
Chicago | ★★★★ | Phoenix Theatre | April 2018

 

 

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