Edinburgh Music Theatre describes itself as an ‘amateur musical theatre company with professional aspirations’. The quality of their performance of Fiddler on the Roof was certainly edging on professional and was easily one of the slickest amateur performances I’ve seen.
The story of Fiddler on the Roof is set in a fictional town called Anatevka in Russia in 1905, the year of the first Russian revolution. It follows Tevye, a Jewish man with five daughters whom he wants to marry off to wealthy men in arranged marriages, as is the community’s custom. But one by one his eldest three daughters instead fall in love with men who he deems progressively inappropriate, a poor tailor, a communist and a Christian. He learns that as significant as tradition may be, learning to let go of tradition and follow your heart is also important. Alex Kantor portrays a compelling and warm Tevye and Sally Pugh, Ashley Grandison and Katie McLean playing the three main daughters also give heartfelt performances, helping give the story its genuine feel.
Even if you have never seen Fiddler on the Roof you are likely to be familiar with many of the wonderful songs such as ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ and ‘To Life’. The singing is good on the whole but the strongest point for the production musically is the orchestra, who deliver a close to perfect performance.
The set worked well, a wooden outline of homes along the back, including a roof for the symbolic Fiddler to sit on. With a generally very empty stage there is plenty of room allowed for the addition of furniture and for big dance numbers. The backdrop was all lit as a sky that changed colour with the time of day. Lighting was generally very strong and changed with the scene and mood, but was perhaps a tad overused.
One of the strongest sections of EMT’s production was the dream sequence when Tevye convinces his wife that he has had a nightmare where the butcher’s deceased wife threatened to kill Tzeitel if she married her husband. The song has the huge ensemble dance around the couple’s bed like sleep-walking zombies and the ghastly ghost of the ex-wife appear, and was much more heavily stylised than the rest of the quite naturalistic performance. The script is great as a whole with characters having their own patterns of speech that offset the general naturalism of the play, but it really picks up pace in the second act with Tevye firing off hilarious lines all over the place.
The Fiddler on the Roof is very much a demonstration of Jewish life as seen from a Jewish perspective and highlights a huge number of traditions, poking fun in a way that is clearly affectionate and self-reflective. This insider perspective makes sense since the musical is based on stories by Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem. Throughout the plot are references to the mistreatment of the Jews but it’s not until the final few scenes that this really hits home, when you discover that the whole community of Jews are being evicted from Anatevka. Unlike many a musical The Fiddler on the Roof does not have a very happy ending, it is however successful in teaching a realistic and poignant aspect of history to the audience, the forced relocation of the Jewish people.
Aside from a few minor technical problems and a few slightly weaker singing performances, Edinburgh Music Theatre put on a splendid rendition of the famous musical and a great opportunity to see really good musical theatre without forking out the huge prices for professional touring productions.