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  • INTERVIEW | Harriet Bunton on Why Fiddler on the Roof Still Moves Audiences to Tears Over 50 Years On
Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End

INTERVIEW | Harriet Bunton on Why Fiddler on the Roof Still Moves Audiences to Tears Over 50 Years On

With a hugely successful run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, director Trever Nunn brought a completely different approach to the 1964 musical Fiddler On The Roof with this new intimate production. The musical is now transferring to the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End and they’re reconfiguring the theatre to create the same feeling. 

Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of a Jewish man names Tevye and his five daughters. Trying to maintain his family’s religious and cultural traditions, his daughters are desperate to grow up and live their own lives. I spoke to Harriet Bunton, who is reprising her role of Hodel in the West End run. 

“Hodel is the second eldest and she’s quite quick-witted. She knows her own brain and at the beginning of the show we see her being quite ambitious,” Harriet explained. When the students rock up in their little village, they change everything she believes in. She becomes a bit of a revolutionary really as she leaves her family and everything she has ever known to go and follow this guy she has fallen in love with.

“She is quite an independent little thing, she is very courageous and is really interesting to play. There really is this massive journey from a little girl who has all these childish fantasies about what her life should be and what actually happens.”

Harriet’s previous credits include Mammia Mia and We Will Rock You, she never expected to play a part like Hodel. “It was never a part I thought I’d do because so far I’d done jukebox musicals that have a lot of dancing and much more of a pop vibe,” she said. “So when the audition came through I wasn’t sure it was for me but even during the auditions I started to realise how well I suited it, I thought ‘oh wow, she is me.’ It really is something out of my comfort zone and something I’ve never done before, but that is what we live for as an actor.”

Harriet Bunton and Stewart Clarke in Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre. Photo credit: Johan Perrson
Harriet Bunton and Stewart Clarke in Fiddler on the Roof at the Playhouse Theatre. Photo credit: Johan Perrson

Despite it being an older musical, the themes still resonate with today. “That’s one thing about this show, I think it will always be relevant,” Harriet said. “The racial tension is still scarily relevant, and the way the younger generation want to break away from the rules that the older generation have set for them.”

This particular production has been hailed as ‘magnificent’ because of the new approach. “I think Fiddler has all these epic songs that everyone knows and sometimes that can be a bit too Broadway jazz-hands kind of style,” Harriet explained. “But we have approached it with real truth. We’ve even taken the songs as an extension of the text, which is what has made it so successful. I think the minute it is stripped back is when it really hits the audience.”

The cast open the show in the foyers as they bring a pre-show performance, instantly making that connection with the audience. It’s fantastic that they are able to completely emulate the atmosphere of the original show in a West End theatre. 

Harriet emphasised how after being part of this piece, she has really got the bug for intimate work. “It is brilliant going into a show that has been up an running for ten years, but there is something really magical about making a part your own and going through a creative process like we have for this show.”

The universal themes of Fiddler on the Roof still resonate 50 years on, which is why it’s still such a well-loved musical. Tackling everything from family, to love, to traditions, it still has the power to move audiences to tears.

“If an audience member relates to it in any way and recognises those flaws in humanity that still exist, then that’s the most important thing. I hope it makes people think about their family, every night I realise how lucky I am to have a tightknit family that support me,” Harriet said. “It isn’t until we take our bows and look around do we see the amount of people in tears. You’ve got everything from a 90-year-old man to 15-year-old kids that are completely moved by it.

“You realise how much this story touches people in so many ways. Especially all the relationships, such as the ones between husband and wife, father and daughter, mother and daughter and more. Everyone can find something to relate to in this piece.”

Fiddler on the Roof is on at the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End, tickets and information can be found on their website.

Photo credit: Johan Perrson

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