REVIEW: NE Theatre York in Fiddler On The Roof, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Alice Atang’s Fiddler and Steve Tearle’s Tevye in NE Theatre York’s Fiddler On The Roof

TEVYE will always be Steve Tearle’s most treasured role, his programme note reveals, as the North Easterner plays the Russian village milkman for the third time in celebration of Fiddler On The Roof’s 60th anniversary.

That enthusiasm is writ large in both his performance and his direction of the 1964 Broadway musical, less showy than usual in both cases, still with his familiar twinkle in the eye in his engagement with the audience but graver in disposition too, as demanded by the shadow of anti-Semitism that darkens Joseph Stein’s book for the nine-time Tony Award winner.

The result is his most rounded production for NE Theatre York, one that plays to his Busby Berkeley-style convention of using a big cast but does everything in the cause of the musical, rather than imposing on it mischievously or allowing himself to adlib.

Given what is unfolding in Gaza and Israel, this is a time of heightened division and global political tension to be staging a musical with a pogrom – an act of persecution against Russian Jews in 1905 – at its heart.

Fiddler is set in the Pale Of Settlement of Imperial Russia, where Tevye must cope not only with three daughters’ strong will to marry for love – each one’s choice of husband moving further away from the customs of his faith – but also with the Tsar’s edict to evict the Jewish community from their small village of Anatevka.

Rooted in Sholem Aleichem’s story Tevye And His Daughters (or Tevye The Dairyman) and other tales, Fiddler finds the traditionalist Tevye facing changes to his simple family life from all sides: from daughters rebelling against the convention of arranged marriages, as they take matters into their own hand, to the climactic decree to evacuate the village.

Stein’s book and the songs of Jerry Bock and lyricist Sheldon Harnick richly establish Tevye’s tormented, if humorous character and his role as narrator/commentator, swimming against the tide of change and female empowerment, and this is where Tearle excels, bringing such personality to If I Were A Rich Man and Tradition.

Not only Tearle impresses. Perri Ann Barley’s stoic wife Golde and the rebel treble of Maia Stroud’s Tzeitle, Rebecca Jackson’s Hodle and Elizabeth Farrell’s Chava give moving performances too, while Finlay Butler’s Motel, Kit Stroud’s Perchik and Callum Richardson’s Fyedka play their part resolutely.

Melissa Boyd’s choreography hits the mark in the show’s hot spots, Matchmaker, Matchmaker, To Life, Sunrise, Sunset and Tevye’s Dream, the production’s high point.

Praise too for Tearle’s costume design and musical director Joe Allen’s orchestra, so integral to the moods and changing tones of Fiddler On The Roof.

As for the Fiddler of the title, whether by Tevye’s side or perched on the roof, Alice Atang is a nimble symbol of both joy and melancholia.

NE Theatre York’s Fiddler On The Roof ran at Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from April 23 to 27.