(from the Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre run - some actors have now left
(seen at the afternoon performance on 3rd February 2019).
Moving from French to Russian poverty isn’t much of a leap for “Les Misérables”
director Trevor Nunn. He employs the same intellectual grimness here as in
previous work and manages, if not to discover anything new within the piece
(this isn’t Shakespeare after all), to at least freshen and surprise a little.
This is most evident in the downbeat first half hour of the show, where the most
memorable numbers are placed. A proper fiddler on a roof (Darius Luke Thompson)
sits above a bare stage as “Tradition” unfolds in restrained manner. The three
eldest daughters give “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” considered thought rather than
mindless teasing, while “If I Were a Rich Man” eschews all “deedle-didle” joy in
favour of groans and aches as tender flesh and muscles are treated at the end of
a hard day.
The reasons become clear as the family gather for “Sabbath Prayer”
and we realise suddenly that these are real people, a group barely surviving but
bonded by faith and love. Set Designer Robert Jones is to be praised for his
attention to detail, the Judaic items on display are authentic, the simple
boards and boxes against a terrace of shacks entirely in keeping with the
The show truly opens up just after this, with original Jerome Robbins
choreography given thrilling exposition in “To Life.” From there, via a
memorable wedding – “Sunrise, Sunset” reflective, the “Bottle Dance” for the
benefit of the happy couple until fate intervenes, it is a downhill struggle in
which we are fully engaged.
Teyve (Andy Nyman) is less gregarious than usual.
Sharp of wit when he has the time, but his mind is on survival and providing for
his family as well as the God with whom he often converses on the intimate terms
of one accepting his position in life.
His Golda (Judy Kuhn) is perhaps the more whimsical of the pair, her fine voice
and acting making credible a hope in dreams and portents as a guide through
Daughters Tzeitel (Molly Osbourne), Hodel (Harriet Bunton) and
Chava (Kirsty Maclaren) keep at their hearts the teachings of their parents,
even as each rebels in her own way. Tzeitel’s Motel the tailor (Joshua Gannon)
the “boy next door” proves himself a quiet yet growing-in-confidence husband.
Hodel’s rebellious student Perchik (Stewart Clarke) has more than enough
charisma to challenge the status quo and get a woman to follow him to the ends
of the Russian Empire. Clarke, notable in “The Rink” proves again his leading
man credentials. Major recognition will surely follow.
Younger sisters Shprintze (Soshana Ezequiel) and Bielke (Sofia Bennett) play
a nice scene with him too, both having decent voices in choral numbers as well.
Third, and least suitable suitor Fyedka (Matt Corner) does well to balance
welcome lover with unwanted intruder in his relationship with Chava.
smaller roles, Yente (Louise Gold)
is a sympathetic tale-carrier with more awareness than usual of her status in
the community. Rabbi (Fenton Gray) has perfect Hebrew pronunciation (if lack of
awareness of the meaning of one word – which shouldn’t have been used) and an
inventive turn of mind in dispensing blessings.
Lazer Wolf (Dermot Canavan)
has striking impact as the spurned suitor whose emotions turn in a moment at the
A particularly well staged “Tevye’s Dream” gives Fruma Sarah (Gaynor Miles) and
Specialist Consultant Paul Kieve a chance to shine, as the inventiveness of Nunn
and choreographer Matt Cole match those of Tevye the teller.
A decent sized
orchestra under Paul Bogaev keeps the sound as kosher as possible, and Tim
Lutkin, Jonathan Lipman and Richard Mawbey keep lighting, costume and makeup
The show is so tightly constructed that there is little room for fresh
interpretation, but this version has the advantage of the low-ceilinged
ex-chocolate-factory over a gleaming theatre to add a little to the gloom. That
there is more dark than light in the show, yet it rarely swamps it, suggests the
team found what they were looking for. Certainly, three hours fly, and the heart
and soul are moved and refreshed once more.