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It seems apt that Fiddler on the Roof is the first of the Everyman’s new Rep Company performances, Artistic Director Gemma Bodinetz saying that by having a Rep Company at the theatre – fourteen local actors, some new and emerging, others recognisable names, means “we’re creating a family that can really respond to the City, who will create a conversation with our audiences and will together create vibrant, vital work.”
Because of course Fiddler on the Roof is a story of family, albeit one of blood rather than acquaintance, and one instilled – of course! – with a strong sense of tradition. Tradition is as important as life, though at one point it is observed “even the old ways were new, once upon a time”. And indeed, the new and old ways play a never ending tug o’ war throughout the play, edging slowly towards the unfamiliar despite deep yearnings to stay in the safety of the past.
So yes, family is the thing, and the strength that comes from building and conserving it. The story of Tevye’s struggle keep his family of five daughters together in uncertain times has clear parallels to 2017, the current refugee crisis being the obvious starting point, but the production also serves to emphasise the lack of security experienced by our society at large; the poor for one can never live in real confidence or comfort.
Patrick Brennan’s Tevye is a decidedly modern man, despite the character’s blustering protestations to the contrary, and he gradually adapts to the new ways his own daughters inflict on him. Melanie La Barrie as his long suffering wife Golde brings a giggle to the throat as she good naturedly banters with her husband and scolds her children, but the audience’s eyes tear up at her heartbreak over her middle daughter’s banishment. Marrying for love not practicality is alien to the old ways, and when Golde finally begrudgingly admits she loves her husband after 25 years – well, I defy anyone’s heart not to be squeezed even a little.
The singing and dancing throughout the production is terrific, If I Were a Rich Man and Matchmaker, Matchmaker instantly recognisable but it’s when the family sing around the dinner table on the Sabbath, the call and response sweet and very lovely and passionate, does the music side of things warm up properly.
The comedic delivery of classic lines are flawless; when the eldest daughter’s tailor husband Motel (Dean Nolan) gets a sewing machine for the first time, something which will improve the whole family’s circumstances, all the community are giddy with delight.
‘Is there a blessing for a sewing machine, Rabbi?,’ Tzeitel (Laura Dos Santos) wants to know, beaming with pride over her husband’s new purchase.
The Rabbi is confused by this, before giving in. ‘There is a blessing for everything!’ he smiles, and mumbles one he cobbles together on the spot.
This production of Fiddler on the Roof is long, three hours, but it keeps it pace well. My personal highlights was Hodel (Emily Hughes) grudgingly falling in love with young student Perchik (Tom Kanji); perfect casting.
The ending, when Tevye has an abrupt change of heart, might come a little too suddenly, and so jar, but the ultimate reunification of the displaced family and community is nothing short of beautiful.
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