Tracy-Ann Oberman takes on a meaningful, musical role in Chichester

Omid Djalili and Tracy-Ann Oberman in rehearsal. Picture by Johan Persson
Omid Djalili and Tracy-Ann Oberman in rehearsal. Picture by Johan Persson

Fiddler on the Roof is a musical rich in personal resonance for Tracy-Ann Oberman who plays Golde opposite Omid Djalili’s Tevye in Chichester Festival Theatre’s big summer revival.

The piece is set in among the threatened Jews in the Russian shtetl of Anatevka in 1905 – a situation Tracy-Ann can certainly relate to. Her own great-grandmother was a Belarusian refugee.

“There were big pogroms. They saved their money because they knew another one was coming with terrible things going to happen, and they paid for her to get a third-class boat ticket to England. She came to England in 1903 or 1904, and I think her brother came out on 1910.

“My great-grandmother lived with us. She died in ’99, but she used to tell us about living in one of the villages.

“But apart from being a personal story for me, Fiddler on the Roof is also very zeitgeist-y. It’s about that idea of a community where very strong tradition and religion is under threat and about what your identity becomes when you are forced to flee and have a very different experience growing up in a very different tradition. It’s about if you don’t have your traditions, then who are you? What do you keep? What are you without your community?

“So it is a part that I have always wanted to play.”

And it is great to be working with Omid again: “I was with him in his film The Infidel. We have often talked about how nice it would be to work together again, and it’s great because I think with the Golde/Tevye relationship, we have already got a shorthand between us. We just get each other. It just works.”

But it is new ground in other ways for Tracy-Ann: her first musical.

It’s clearly a good one to start with: “It’s a brilliant play with brilliant music. You have got the mother and the father and their relationship with their daughters and the daughters wanting something different. You have got three daughters that, each in their own way, are challenging what their parents have wanted.”

“A musical is obviously acting and also with songs, and the challenge is to make the songs feel naturalistic.”

Which Tracy-Ann believes is something actually built into the show. As she says, it is not just “talk, talk, talk, song, talk, talk, talk, song”. Instead, the songs emerge from the dialogue – to which Tracy-Ann can add all the personal cross-over.

“I feel like I am doing it for my great-grandmother: “Sometimes you play the past to see how we are now.”

Tracy-Ann was at the CFT last autumn in the touring production of Stepping Out: “I hadn’t been back to the CFT since the refurbishment, and it is incredible. It felt very different. But you have still got that thrust. It’s lovely having the audience almost all the way round. It’s almost like working in a TV studio in that respect. But there is a technique. You have to know how to play Chichester.”

And it was from Stepping Out that Fiddler on the Roof flowed for Tracy-Ann:

“(CFT artistic director) Daniel (Evans who is directing Fiddler) saw me doing Stepping Out down here, and he could see that I really connected to the stage and just loved being here.”

The show runs until September 2.

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