Wednesday 4th May 2022 at Park Theatre, London.
Reviewer: Jonathan Walfisz
As I entered to see Pickle, I couldn’t help but notice a few familiar faces in the queue. I grew up in Edgware and North West London Jewry is a small world.
I was immediately offered a sweet and a (fake) shot of whisky upon entering the auditorium. “Moshiach” was playing on the stereo. The production crew were cajoling the audience into dancing before the show started in front of the beautifully designed pink ark curtains emblazoned with the word “pickle” written in Hebrew letters.
This atmosphere was hospitable to a fault, reminding me of overbearing family members insisting I dance at an obscure relative’s Bar Mitzvah.
This was the familiar culture which I grew up immersed in, yet for some reason always shrink away from, left feeling vaguely uncomfortable without knowing why.
Which made it the perfect preamble to Deli Segal’s excellent one-woman show which explores her own complicated feelings of otherness in Britain and in her own Judaism.
For an hour, Segal takes you on a whistle-stop tour of basically every Yiddish term in the book. Segal’s character Ari Fish’s relationships with men (Jewish and Goy), her family, and her culture all come under the spotlight and are inspected cleverly through the device of a “Jewish Conscience” voice over. Think guilty conscience but less schmaltzy.
The story leapfrogs between dates and family affairs, with a particularly funny anecdote about an unfortunate bris that fuses the scene with a Jaws-like horror. Segal’s writing is sharp and consistently lands her own particular brand of Jewish neurosis humour.
Describing neighbour Dorit so simply yet effectively with “Huge boobs, yappy dog, boring husband” and ennui via “I don’t belong here with the fishballs. I don’t even like fishballs. Guess I’ll just die alone,” were my particular favourites.
What stuck with me most though was Segal’s interrogation of what it means to be a North West London Jew. The experience of being both a middle-class Brit but also feeling other to that same social strata is a complex topic to get to grips with and Segal handles it with an onslaught of Jewish tradition.
I wonder if a non-Jew would struggle to keep up with all the terminology, even with a quick education in the term “frum”. However, for this Jew in the audience, every joke landed and I empathised loads with Ari’s struggle to understand her place as a Jew, but maybe not the kind of Jew her sister-in-law is, or the kind of New York Jew you see on film, or even the kind of Jew your family sets you up on a date with.
In the climax of the play, Ari’s struggle with her identity could have gone deeper for me, as she unsheathes herself of her burdensome Jewish conscience with relative ease after a carol service. But her resulting journey to not “miss the joy” was still uplifting and left me reflecting on the ways I would like to approach my own Judaism.
Segal’s performance throughout is powerful and keeps the audience captivated. The monologue format is also brought to even more life with the handy direction of Kayla Feldman. Clever touches like the Israel conversation alarm ensure the action never lags. Props also to Andy Brock for that lovely pink curtain.
There’s an idea that the more specific a story you tell, the more universal it is. Pickle doesn’t shy away from the specific, and although I may be firmly within its target audience, I think it achieves a charming tale of belonging – albeit one you might want to brush up on your Yiddish beforehand.
PICKLE plays Park Theatre until May 7th 2022 ummmand you can find your tickets here.