Fiddler on the Roof
Words: Sheldon Harnick
Music: Jerry Bock
Written in: Authored Date:

Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof....

For the Jewish people in the small Russian village of Anatevka, life is nothing if not precarious. It is 1905 and the eve of the Russian revolution. 'God keep the Tsar... far away from us!' says the Rabbi. However, it is not just the changes threatening to sweep through Tsarist Russia that the inhabitants have to face, but the harder recognition that change is coming to their own small community through the new hopes and expectations of its younger generation.

To Tevye, a hardworking man with five daughters and a twenty-five year marriage to his credit, these changes will come particularly hard. For him, tradition is inextricably bound up with his sense of identity: 'Because of our traditions, everyone here knows who he is and what God expects of him.' Tradition dictates that the papa has the final word, the mama will raise the family and run the home, and that the sons and daughters will obey their parents in all things - especially in marriage. For in Anatevka, matches are made not in heaven, but, for a small fee, by Yente, the town's matchmaker.

It is this last tradition that is to be the first to fall to the new spirit of self-determination. Whilst Tevye shares his daughters' wishes for a fine match, he does not share their notion of what 'a fine match' is. Tevye hopes they will marry, if not a wealthy man, at least a man of comfortable means, who is capable of providing for them so that they will never have to know the meaning of hunger. The girls, however, dream of romantic love and a handsome young husband, making Yente's first 'matchless match' - a fat butcher with a bloodied apron - seem all the more abhorrent!

As each of his three eldest daughters follows the dictates of her heart and not those of her culture, Tevye is forced to reconcile his love for his family and wish for their happiness with his own dependence on the traditions of his faith.

With a mixture of wit, faith and ingenuity - note the marvellously inventive dream sequence with its threat of family damnation, which he relates in true melodramatic fashion (and with not a little relish) to his gullible wife - Tevye endeavour's to keep the peace in his household, as well as his dignity and self-respect. Whilst neither of his two eldest daughters' husbands match his expectations, the first being considerably poorer than he wished, and the second somewhat of a radical, it is his third daughter's marriage, as much a challenge to his faith as to his authority, that he cannot accept. Only when his family and indeed the whole community are threatened by greater evils from outside - by violence, pogroms and eviction - is he able to accept his daughter once more.

When the villagers are finally forced to surrender their land and their homes, there is a sense in which we feel that this is not the end for the people of Anatevka, nor is it a new beginning, rather it is as if history is merely repeating itself. And as they go their separate ways, to a new and uncertain future, the Fiddler, a reminder of their ever precarious existence, goes with them

Book by Joseph Stein
Fiddler on the Roof, February 2009, Nuffield Theatre
Fiddler on the Roof, June 1996, Nuffield Theatre

 LB books dog

Hopefully coming to you in early 2021!