A wonderful production by a bright-eyed company - Fiddler on the Roof reviewed by Kevin Anderson

Fiddler on the Roof by Paul Spink
Fiddler on the Roof by Paul Spink

A smartly renovated Devonshire Park Theatre re-opens this week, with fresh paint, a beautifully lit facade, and a Fiddler on the Roof - and the Juniors of EODS are raising the roof.

Fiddler was effectively written as the theatre world’s moving tribute to the Jewish people after their unbearable, unimaginable suffering under Nazism.

For these young performers, those events are now the stuff of history lessons and not direct experience, and yet their modern world is threaded with tragic lines of bewildered refugees fleeing devastated Middle Eastern villages. There is always an Anatevka.

It isn’t the most obvious of choices for a youth production. The playing roles span the generations, the minor-key music is wonderful but rarely upbeat, and even the humour is often grizzled and ironic.

That said, any reservations are blown away by an eager, bright-eyed company in which every cast member knows his or her role. Unlike some junior shows, where directors are tempted to fill the stage with extras, Jane Tingley involves them all and there is not a single passenger.

The very photogenic show is perfectly dressed, with beautiful attention to detail, and very effectively lit under Doug Morgan’s expert eye.

The full space of the stage is exploited well, with a cleverly flexible set converting smoothly from interior to village square.

There are many fine moments, moving, funny, tearful.

The young actors have genuinely grasped that precariously balanced life of villagers poor in wealth but rich in faith, loyalty and uncrushable spirit. A number of set-pieces catch the eye, notably a powerful and thoughtful Sunrise, Sunset and a wonderful, exuberant Wedding sequence which serves as the Entr’acte.

The company decision to run with pre-recorded tracks rather than a live band is understandable and pragmatic.

It does give the actors the assurance of performing to exactly the same music which they will have heard and worked with in rehearsal.

But, naturally, without a live MD in the pit to give direction and impetus, the singers do need to create their own attack, particularly with vocal entries. All credit to them for doing so competently and bravely.

Perfect in both gesture and inflection, Damon Miller brings stature and maturity to the lead role of Tevye, the honest, endearing village milkman with a household full of headaches in the shape of wife Golda - a bustling, richly voiced Elli Manville - and no fewer than five daughters.

As the eldest, Tzeitel, Amy Fairbarn forms a really sweet newlywed couple with Ben Trainor’s Motel.

And the next two in age, Hodel and Chava, are stunningly played by Heather Tingley and Gemma Cullington.

Heather is possibly the company’s most experienced player, combining a lovely voice with a confident stage presence, and her Matchmaker duet with strikingly talented Gemma is one of the show’s highlights.

Milly Foreman and Eloise Taylor complete this happy brood, and there is able support too from suitors Harry Spencer as Perchik and Robin Dyson as Fyedka.

Understandably with such a youthful group, there are compromises.

The Pogrom is executed by some quite fresh-faced Russian soldiers, and Ruben Langley is a pint-sized - but thoroughly assertive - Rabbi.

It doesn’t matter in the least. We in the audience can happily suspend our disbelief, sit back and enjoy the committed and spirited performances.

For the actors,it is a brilliant experience to take part in a fully-staged production in a professional theatre.

EODS Juniors they may be, but EODS seniors they will be in due course. And as a cracking way to spend your half-term week, it beats Playstation any day.