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Fiddler on the Roof (Susan Elkin reviews)

Guildhall School of Music and Drama

It’s quite a privilege to enjoy what is arguably one of the best musicals of all time in one of our foremost conservatoires. They can of course, rustle up a magnificent orchestra (plus on-stage Klezmer band for the wedding and talented Nicole Petrus Barracks as the titular fiddler) with Steven Edis as musical director to play all those delicious accelerating minor key melodies. And because GSMD has one of the country’s best technical departments the sets and costumes, designed by Adam Wiltshire, are splendid too – especially the 3D lit up cottages upstage left to suggest the village of Anatevke and the angled walkway across the back.

And as for the cast you get 25 final year actors, directed by Martin Connor, giving their all and their “all” is generally pretty impressive. At the heart of the show is Alex James-Cox as Tevye. It’s one of those iconic parts (cf Lady Bracknell, Richard III, Dorothy and Fagin) which everyone associates with a single actor. The knack is to put those memories and images aside and make it your own which is what James-Cox does very ably. He sings with passion, delivers every laconic Jewish line with warmth and panache, has stage timing that many seasoned actors would die for and clearly has no difficulty playing twenty years over his own age. I particularly liked the way he dances/conducts expressively with his hands, adding an extra dimension to Jerry Bock’s lovely score It’s a very fine performance and I’m sure we shall be seeing a lot more of James-Cox very soon.

Phoebe Marshall finds mature warmth in Tzeitel, the eldest daughter who chooses to marry Motel (Finlay Paul – another pleasing performance), a poor tailor rather than succumb to the matchmaker. Tallulah Bond is strong as Golde, Tevye’s long suffering wife, especially in her duet with him Do You Love Me?which really does sound like a spontaneous musical conversation.

The company plays villagers, Russians and a whole range of minor roles with Georgina Beedle especially memorable as Grandma’s ghost on stilts. There is a minor problem in that this is, by definition a young cast and they don’t always convince as old or older people. Poppy Allen-Quarmby, for instance, does her best as the matchmaker but she’s clearly just a young woman pretending as is Harry Harrington as Lazar Wolf.

But the quality of singing and dancing more than makes up for it. Interestingly these are acting, not musical theatre students. This fine show demonstrates how well they’ve been trained. The big ensemble moments – the opening, the wedding and the dream for example – zing along with some imaginative choreography, including the famous bottle dance and lots of vibrantly rhythmic dancing – are spectacular. The ending is as moving as I’ve ever seen it.

I’d advise you to see this show except that – understandably – it is sold out

First published by Sardines:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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