The bare stage looks simple, but hidden beneath its wooden boards are new, complex mechanisms, recently installed to fit an ambitious brief. Come June, the five plays that make up Liverpool Everyman’s 2017 season will be performed here in daily repertory: both the stage and the 14-strong acting ensemble will shape-swap every night.
It’s almost 25 years since a rep company was last assembled in this theatre. Back then, the voices that grew out of it seemed to represent not just the city but people everywhere: playwrights such as Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale; actors including Julie Walters and Pete Postlethwaite. The choice of Fiddler on the Roof as the opening production is a powerful affirmation by artistic director Gemma Bodinetz that this new rep will put community and engagement at the core of the dream of what the Everyman can be in today’s world.
People throng the space. Wooden crates, trestle tables, a cart flow on and off. An impoverished village in imperial Russia springs to life. Tevye, the village milkman, strains between the shafts of his churn-laden wooden cart because his horse is lame, strains to understand the changing times that test his deep-held beliefs. This Tevye, intricately thought through yet simply portrayed by Patrick Brennan (no relation), is every one of us: his dilemmas may differ in form, but are they so different in kind?
Local tradition demands a daughter marry the man selected by her parents, but three of Tevye and Golde’s five daughters want to choose their own husbands (a treat of a display of female characterisations in both writing and performance). Tevye should oppose them, but “On the other hand...?” – he questions a silent god. This very particular journey of Tevye and his family towards understanding the difference between essential tradition (love of family, friend, neighbour) and local custom embodies a universal struggle. Song and dance evoke that time, that place; in the auditorium, we tap our toes to the rhythms. When an imperial edict banishes Tevye and his community, their neighbours enforce it. The straggle of departing, evicted villagers is swelled by men and women wearing 21st-century clothes. Bodinetz’s staging implies a question: beyond the emptying stage, in the wider world – where do we stand, here and now?