Fiddler on the Roof.

Chichester Festival Theatre.

If I were a rich man – I’d pay for this tremendous staging of Fiddler on the Roof to run and run at Chichester.

As I’m not, I can take solace in the fact the Daniel Evans directed production, with the marvellous Omid Djalili in the role of Tevye, is a cert to transfer to the West End.

To say that comedian Djalili was born to play the role of the poor dairyman from the Tzarist Russian village of Anatevka at the turn of the last century, is probably an understatement. His masterly comic timing brings a wonderful dimension to the character, as Tevye struggles with the changes of the modern world that challenge his traditional position of Popa to the family.

Djalili joins Fiddler straight from the run of his one-man show Schmuck for the Night – something that cannot be said of his performance here. Any production of Fiddler sinks or swims on the strength of Tevye, and in Djalili Chichester have found one of the greats to play the role. His duelling with long-suffering wife Golde, played with equally comic brilliance by Tracy-Ann Oberman, is wonderful, as the pair prove that love can flourish even in the most impoverished of circumstances.

To be fair, any production of Fiddler can also survive if justice is done to the musical brilliance of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. From the opening Tradition, through the soaring Matchmaker, haunting Sunrise, Sunset and the glorious If I Were A Rich Man, the numbers just keep coming. This production, under the musical direction of David White and conductor Tom Brady doesn’t disappoint.

The numbers soar, the dance sequences – including an hilarious bottle-balancing traditional Jewish wedding dance – have the audience wishing they could join in.

A tremendous supporting cast have numerous stand-out performances, including Tevye’s daughter Tzeitel (Simbe Akande), her unsuitable suitor, the butcher Lazar Wolf (Gareth Snook) and her love-interest, impoverished tailor Motel (Joe Slovic).

If there was a small jarring, it was the accents, with some characters attempting an eastern-European style, and others incongruously keeping to their home-town English lilt.

Joseph Stein’s original book exposed the changes and pressures taking place towards the end of the Imperial era in Russia, including persecution, eviction and the emergence of socialism. Not all of his themes would seem out of place to a modern audience, with comments by rebellious student Perchik (Louis Maskell) that no employer should be trusted perhaps catching some of the present anti-business themes in the UK. If they were aware, then Chichester’s first night audience might have taken such sentiment into account during its long standing ovation at curtain down.

Fiddler has in fact been given a longer run at Chichester, extended until September 2. Tickets are scarce, but worth selling the family cow for, even if not one of your five daughters.

Ian Murray.