Deli Segal’s Pickle, a one-woman show which is in the midst of a limited run the Park Theatre, is energetic and full of laughs. Segal’s playwriting debut follows Ari Fish, a 29-year-old Jewish woman who lives with her parents in Finchley, as she navigates her semi-cloistered Jewish community and an alienating secular life. Ari encounters awkward conversations at work and unfavourable comparisons to her frummer (more observant) brother at home. Dating becomes a treacherous choice between cringe-worthy family setups and endless faux pas from non-Jewish Hinge hookups. Segal’s impressions of the characters that surround Ari are specific and her performance is solid throughout.
Ari’s Jewish guilt, in the form of voiceover and a blue wash, barges in at inopportune moments. Though working with voiceover in one-person shows can be tricky, the decision to reserve it for this voice in Ari’s head, allowing Segal to inhabit the other characters in Ari’s life, makes for a seamless incorporation. Segal plays across from the voiceover with excellent comedic timing.
Pickle brims with gags, from a scroll laden with in-community references detailing the spectrum of London Jews from frum to not frum at all, to drunken karaoke performance of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’. These mostly go over quite well. One particular gag, the retelling of a bris gone wrong featuring foreskin and salmon, leans excessively into slapstick and gross-out humour, which grates against the overall tone of the piece.
Transitions, both in terms of Emily Rose Simon’s sound design and Laura Wohlwend’s movement direction, tend to fall flat. Songs cut in and out abruptly without a related physical response. The accompanying movement feels uninspired and unspecific—the energy present in the rest of Segal’s performance does not carry over to these moments.
Though the writing at times becomes bogged down in explanation, which takes away space for Ari’s character to develop, Pickle is an entertaining and informative watch.
“a valiant attempt to speak to modern anxieties but it falls far short”
To actually drone in the rain is to stand outside as it rains and to go on and on about the same thing. To perform To Drone in The Rain is to stand inside as it rains and to go on and on about the same thing. The play, written by Michael Ellis and directed by Lorenzo Peter Mason, is like a flat Black Mirror episode for the stage: a young man (Tom – Michael Benbaruk) with extreme social anxiety is being cared for by Drone Girl (Nell Hardy) and it only gets darker from there …
Well, not exactly. The production stands on some interesting themes which would certainly be likely to resonate with a typical London audience. Drone Girl isn’t just supporting Tom, she is infantilising him. Drone Girl agonises at length about the morality of this decision as Tom descends into total helplessness shouting ‘change my diaper’ by the end. Through their characters, the writer and director worry aloud about society’s over-reliance on technology and particularly on Artificial Intelligence. But that dependence is so outright and divorced from contemporary dependence on mobile phones, that it always feels far away rather than close in. Drone Girl is tempted by Drone Boy (Lino Facioli) to run away from this life of enabling human helplessness and transcend her human shackle. Drone Girl’s struggle to decide whether or not to leave seems to be the main story arc yet mostly expresses itself in drawn-out on-stage agonising and arguing rather than journey, change or development.
Where the script and direction leave a lot to be desired, the acting also fails to light up the circuit boards. The actors had precious little to work with in terms of tension – the stakes were invariably very low – but the performances were mostly flat and without connectivity or personality. Thigh slapping, door slamming and pained looks replaced most of the human connection. If this was deliberate, to symbolise the robots of the show, then the collateral damage was an audience’s desire to actually care about the characters.
Nicole Figini’s set really took centre stage. Looking like an Ikea showroom it set the piece in a world inhabited only by professional Hikikomoris. The white walls and plain furniture were reminiscent of the specific Black Mirror episode Five Million Merits and served the storyline well. The solid audio-visual work and good lighting design break up and structure the moody rants on stage.
Taken together, the show is a valiant attempt to speak to modern anxieties but it falls far short. The politics are blurted out by characters – climate change, social alienation, ‘the bees are dying’ – and the themes aren’t explored or developed. Instead, the characters perform a moody teenage hurley burley that doesn’t do justice to the high-quality production values and intimate venue.