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Pickle at Park Theatre

A space in which young creatives can learn and experiment is clearly vitally necessary. Park Theatre in Finsbury Park is fast becoming the go-to venue to put on new contemporary drama. It’s got great transport links, and Finsbury Park underground station now virtually opens onto the theatre. The theatre itself is a new build glass and steel structure with two bars, excellent toilets and two performance spaces – one seats 200 the other 90. I went along last night to catch Make Mine a Double. As the name suggests it’s a double bill of two one-hour shows and a thirty-minute interval. They are both about young people in their 20s trying to navigate the contemporary world. Anything with a Pulse is a two-hander performed by Annie Davidson and Rufus Love. Pickle is a one-woman show performed by Deli Segal. I’ll take them in turn. First Pickle.

Deli Segal in Pickle (c) Danny Kaan.
Deli Segal in Pickle (c) Danny Kaan.

I grew up on the LCC council estate in Stamford Hill so I’ve had connections with Jewish people from an early age. I obviously saw the orthodox walking around Stamford Hill. At my primary school Tyssen we had many Jewish children – the dining hall was separated into Kosher and non-Kosher dining and seating areas. In my teens, I attended the Saturday night bop at the Amherst Park Young Progressive Synagogue. At those dances, I had Jewish friends who attended the Jewish Free School (JFS) in Camden. So I’ve been curious about Jewish people and Judaism for as long as I can remember. So when the chance arose of reviewing a play about a young Jewish woman from North London I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did because Pickle is the funniest play I’ve seen about Jewish life and culture since the films of Woody Allen.

Written and performed by the ridiculously talented Deli Segal, Pickle is an absolute must-see show. Part dramatic monologue part stand-up comedy routine, Pickle is a one-hour deep dive into the trials and tribulations the tragedies and triumphs and the conflicted contradictory nature of contemporary Jewish identity. Deli is a natural storyteller she ‘do the police in different voices‘ to quote Dickens. By that, I mean that she can switch character in a millisecond from being herself to being say her mum, dad, auntie, sister-in-law, brother, boyfriend, rabbi and so on.

Using her ‘Jewdar’ (Jewish radar) and ‘Jew diligence’, and her astonishing stage charisma, her narrative abilities are so strong that the show never enters the dead zone. It is continually alive for the whole hour. It’s that good that the hour seems like five minutes. Pickle is I think a reference to the pickle Deli finds herself in as a young Jewish woman. She is trying to forge her own path but is finding it immensely complicated. With great wit, humour and humanity Deli takes us with her as she tries to navigate the minefield of attempting to be proud of her Jewish heritage but at the same wanting to explore the world of non-Jewish world of the workplace, pubs and gentiles generally.

A 29-year-old journalist on the Ham & High, Deli still lives at her home with her parents in Finchley. What I found refreshing about Pickle was the way Deli addressed highly emotive issues without the usual cliches. For example, when the question of Israel comes up in a conversation in the pub, the lights go dark and a hazard warning like a dust cart reversing announcing the warning ‘Israel Israel’.

The pickle when it comes down to it is the problem of how to be an individual when you have five thousand years of history to live up to. Deli is at her finest when describing the pressures her family put on her to be a good Jewish girl and marry a good Jewish boy. Her problem is that she is not sure she wants to be the equivalent of a Jewish Stepford wife in Mill Hill. In a stroke of genius, Deli unveils what looks like a giant Torah scroll to explain the three types of Jews. The Frum – Stamford Hill – the not very Frum – Brent Cross and the not at all Frum – Amy Winehouse. But avoiding the Scylla of Jewish married life only throws her into the Charybdis of gentile insensitivity.

One non-Jewish boyfriend tells her that Schindler’s List is his favourite film. She has to make excuses to avoid Friday night after-work drinks in the pub. Another boyfriend starts Jew-Splaining to her about Judaism. Again and again, she runs up against seemingly intractable dilemmas. Christmas being a prime example. Her gentile friends insist on putting their foot in it. Like, offering her pigs in blankets. Her struggles with her gentile friends are reminiscent of the scene in Annie Hall where Alvy Singer is having dinner with Annie Hall’s family and they view him as a Hasidic Jew. Moments later a split screen contrasts that dinner, where they’re talking boats, with that of Alvy’s family meal, where they’re shouting and discussing diabetes. The difference here is that Deli does the split screen and plays all the parts herself live and with no retakes. A formidable achievement.

Deli can be compared with Seinfeld in her ability to change how non-Jews view Jews and Jewish culture. Deli deals with these potentially friendship-ending insensitivities with great forbearance but it’s all really very sad. I came away feeling chastened by it all. It seems that there are more than fifty ways to put one’s foot in it as a gentile talking to a Jewish person. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Trapped and stuck on all sides Deli seems hemmed in but in a brilliant deus ex machina an exit is found which offers the possibility of happiness and L’Chaim. This show offers non-Jews a wonderful opportunity to enter a five thousand-year culture that has given us the Bible, the weekend, smoked salmon bagels, Levi jeans, Marx, & The Marx brothers, Freud, Proust, Einstein, Kafka, President Zelensky. For Jews, it offers a witty and challenging exploration of what it means to be Jewish in 2022. Unmissable.

5 Star Rating

Review by John O’Brien

After captivating audiences during its sold-out performances in May, Pickle returns to Park Theatre this November as part of the Make Mine A Double Festival. Writer Deli Segal (Ali & Dahlia, Pleasance Theatre) stars in this cheeky and authentic exploration of what it means to be a young Jewish woman in London today, in a tale brought to life by female-led Jewish creative team.

Ari lives at home in North-West London, where her life is dominated by overbearing parents, tradition and expectations. However, her daily life includes her job, going out – and, inevitably, the dating scene. Pickle follows Ari as she tries to balance Friday night dinner with drinks at the pub, JSwipe with Hinge, being Jewish and secular. This uproarious simcha of a one-woman show explores a young Jewish woman’s psyche as she navigates her two contrasting worlds with irreverent humour and heart. Expect smoked salmon, guilt and a large dose of self-deprecation as Pickle brings Ari’s vibrant world to life.

Writer and Performer Deli Sagal
Director Kayla Feldman
Producer Tanya Truman
Sound Designer Emily Rose Simons
Set Designer Andrew Brock

Darkly comic Pickle returns to Park Theatre
Monday 14th November – Saturday 26th November 2022
Park Theatre (Park90), Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, London, N4 3JP
https://parktheatre.co.uk/

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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