Fiddler on the Roof, Chichester Festival Theatre ****

Omid Djalili Photograph: Johan Persson

The first 'main house' musical of Daniel Evans’ inaugural season as Artistic Director at CFT was greeted with rapturous applause and seemingly endless praise from its audience at press night. The production has a dynamic contrast between the comedic and the tragic; focusing on clarity of plot and development of character to draw the audience into the story and evoke our empathy. Indeed the events which unfold amongst the small, close community of Anatevka cannot help but remind us that conflicts of a religious nature will sadly always be relevant to our times. In the world of this story, at the turn of the century in Imperial Russia, we see that the treatment of Jews as the “other”; the “unwelcome” resonates just as clearly today with the violence and prejudice present in our current society and throughout history in the time between. The historical context of the piece, implemented by the director, cannot help but encourage us to long for a time when societies can live in a world of acceptance and embrace diversity. However, Evans has balanced his production with vibrant staging and choreography supported by a fantastic score by Bock and Harnick. From the passionate, energetic ‘Tradition’, a dynamite piece using the power of a full cast vocal and powerful choreography, to the hilarity and unexpected dream sequence, we left with as much of a mixture of joy and pain in our minds as the characters we had just seen carry in their hearts.

Omid Djalili leads the cast as Tevye, the milkman and father of five at the centre of the story. His characterisation is a delightful blend of protective father and anxious husband, all the while with the underscore of a man fearful for his future both financially and in terms of survival. He is humorous in all the right places, but never claims to be a perfect role model, remaining flawed throughout; rigid to his traditions and frustrated with the modern ideas of his daughters. It’s a high energy, detailed interpretation proving Djalili as a fine actor as well as established stand-up comedian. The performance is beautifully balanced by the feisty yet subtle offering of Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Golde, who packs an emotional punch despite having much less time to evolve than her counterpart. There is strong support from the eldest daughters. Simbi Akande’s Tzeitel blends the weight of tradition with the exuberance of young love convincingly, whilst Emma Kingston’s Hodel gives a rich, emotional vocal performance and Rose Shalloo’s heartbreaking Chava reinforces the tragic nature of growing up in a community filled with such conflict.

Cast Photograph: Johan Persson

The combination of Alex Brotherson’s spacious set, combined with David Hersey’s atmospheric lighting brings the world of these characters to life, with Alistair David’s dynamic choreography contrasting beautifully with more subtle private moments. The families, lit by candlelight around tables at Sabbath served as a particularly touching image, once again bringing the themes of family, community and its tradition to the forefront. Despite the tragic conclusion of the piece, with its historical imagery and inevitable ending, what Evans and his cast leave us with is a passionate and raw piece of theatre; exquisitely balancing the anxiety and experience of the older generation with the youthful hope of the young. Indeed perhaps it is here when we realise how times have changed today. Today even the young to lack hope and be fearful of the world, and it’s worth revelling in the uplifting, celebratory moments of this ever poignant, moving piece.