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Reading Operatic Society - Fiddler on the Roof

1st to 5th October 2002, at the Hexagon

This was the review in the Newbury Weekly News.

A bigger picture

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, performed by Reading Operatic Society, at the Hexagon, from Tuesday, October 1 to Saturday, October 5

Marc Chagall's painting 'The Green Violinist' and the stories by Sholom Aleichem depicting the harsh realities of life in pre-Revolutionary Russia were the unlikely catalysts in the creation of this most enduring of musicals. Reading Operatic Society's production proved both enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Tim Hawken's eponymous Fiddler was played with such class that he might almost have been a refugee from the Moscow Conservatoire. His precarious balancing act mirrored that of the Jewish milkman Tevye as he scratched out a living with his wife Golde and five daughters.

The leading role will, of course, forever be associated with Topol whose larger-than-life performance I had the pleasure of seeing in the London revival some years ago. Raymond Burton came a close second, bringing all his experience to bear in a deeply-felt and moving portrayal, exemplifying humour through adversity. Playing opposite him as Golde for the second time was the accomplished Maggie Marsh, revealing a warmth of character beneath a feisty exterior.

Director Jill Morgan proved the perfect matchmaker in her casting of Janet Lake, Naomi Hinton and Tania Pratt as Tevye's three eldest daughters, Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava respectively, whose choices of husband cause their father to question his traditions and beliefs. Model's touching 'Far from the home I love', accompanied by a plaintive oboe solo was capped only by the poignant 'Chaveleh' sequence as the girls played behind a gauze, recalling happier times.

The presence of several young lads from the Starmaker Theatre Company energised the chorus numbers and contributed to some sparkling choreography, the 'Bottle Dance' being a highlight. The lighting was suitably sombre throughout (the candlelight Sabbath Prayer was inspired) although maybe the scene in the Inn containing the exuberant song 'To Life' could have been brighter by way of contrast. Unfortunately, the vagaries of the Hexagon's acoustics diminished the audibility of both dialogue and lyrics at times.

Unlike the recent Watermill version in which the focus, necessarily in such an intimate space, was on the close-knit family, Reading Operatic Society's large-cast production painted a bigger picture, showing the effect of the atrocities on the whole community of Anatevka, to greater advantage.