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.
“this beautifully presented play exposes pertinent questions about societal responsibility, and prejudice“
Troupe presents a new adaptation by Simon Reade of Christopher Isherwood’s genre-defining novel. Set in California in 1962, the play follows a day in the life of college lecturer, George; a middle-aged, gay Englishman coming to terms with the isolation caused by the sudden death of his partner Jim.
The play opens with George (Theo Fraser Steele) sleeping – a single man in a single bed. Two Paramedics (Phoebe Pryce & Freddie Gaminara) appear spirit-like running through a checklist of George’s awakening, helping him to wash, get dressed and start his day. The dialogue runs as a narrative, a commentary. The ghost of Jim (Miles Molan) wanders through the apartment and kisses George good morning.
For the first part of the day, we see George driving to work, teaching his students, and shopping. But a meeting of the neighbours illustrates the daily prejudice George must face. His college class turns into a discussion of the minority versus the majority and making food choices becomes pointless when one is cooking for just one. George wallows in his isolation. Fraser Steele is perfect in this role: in a smart suit and tie, thick glasses and brilliantined hair, speaking in a rich sardonic baritone, he looks and sounds the part.
The first-rate ensemble comes and goes around George who is ever-present on stage, entering and exiting through the audience seated on three sides of the action. Minimal props are used and versatile trucks are slid or rotated to form the bed, a car, a dining table. (Set and Costume Designer Caitlin Abbot). The movement is slick, marred only be the occasional masking. One scene in the far corner of the stage, where George sits on the toilet, is totally lost, at least from my seat (Director Philip Wilson). The subtle use of sound effects is excellent (Beth Duke) – George urinating, honking his car horn, or in one delightful moment, George’s books talking to him: “One at a time” says George as the books all gibber away together.
The second half brings with it an unexpected change in style, and we hear more about characters other than just George. Life-long English friend Charley (Olivia Darnley), another lonely outsider, wants to get closer to George but he pushes her away. Darnley’s portrayal of a G.I. bride, abandoned by both husband and teenage son, is dynamic and moving.
The following scene in which George meets his student Kenny (Miles Molan) in a bar is the standout scene of the evening. Kenny is loud, brash, and wearing the tightest of t-shirts. The simmering conversation between the two brims with unspoken lust and sexual tension.
George returns to his single bed, drunk, and the Paramedics reappear in their hospital whites with their clip boards to see the day through to its conclusion.
Does this audience feel empathy for George? His situation is certainly tragic but much of his loneliness is self-inflicted. He doesn’t know how to move on from his past to find a new present. We can see George as a portrayal of Everyman. Or more correctly Every(gay)man. And through him, this beautifully presented play exposes pertinent questions about societal responsibility, and prejudice. And pleas for our understanding of people’s hidden loneliness, isolation and otherness.