Life & Culture

Heimishe humour hits the stage in Soho

The star of one-woman show Pickle on how Jewish joy can help us can face up to the grimmest times


Funny girl: Deli Segal

I used to enjoy mindlessly scrolling on my phone. Returning home at the end of a long day (I’m an actor and a writer, so who am I kidding? This is more like returning to the sofa from the kitchen), I would settle down for the sweet dopamine hit of a scrolling session. Flick through WhatsApp messages. Scan the news. Ordinarily, a pleasurable activity. Keeping abreast of world events. Happening upon a humorous meme. We had a great rapport, my phone and I.

Things are different now. Now, an innocuous glance at my phone triggers immense panic. My phone has volunteered itself as the nexus of all terribleness since approximately 08:01 on October 7, 2023. It’s a direct portal into the horror that’s happening in the world, out there beyond my sofa. The terrible war in Gaza. The unrest closer to home. And, let’s not beat around the bush: things aren’t that great for us Jews out there. If it’s news – it’s bad news. If it’s WhatsApp messages – they’re panic-hued. If it’s social media – well, don’t even get me started on social media… We are living in turbulent times.

And phones don’t lie, as Shakira famously sang. CST reports a 500+ per cent surge in antisemitic incidents since this time last year. The hatred is all around us. The hatred is through the roof. And we’re either experiencing it first-hand, or we’re at home reading about it on the news, worrying about ourselves, our loved ones, our community.

The forecast is gloomy. So, how do we find joy when the storm outside is raging? Well, the answer is not so much about “how” but “why”. Why do we need Jewish joy during these times? I would argue that now, more than ever, we need Jewish joy in our lives.

My one-woman show Pickle, set in north-west London, is an uproarious celebration of Jewish culture and Jewish joy. I wanted to write a comic play about one woman, Ari, and her search for her place in the Jewish community. It’s a story that satirises, amplifies and spotlights the vibrancy of our community that I saw around me: from overbearing parents to synagogue set-ups to first dates at Sushimania and endless trips to Kosher Deli. Contemporary British-Jewish life – strangely, a world I had rarely seen portrayed on stage. Inevitably, that meant a lot of jokes about Temple Fortune and puns about smoked salmon. But jokes about smoked salmon – now – are no minor matter. Maybe they were small fry (!) when I wrote and performed the play back in 2022. But right now, they’re essential. We need warm-hearted, humorous appraisals of culture like we need a big bowl of chicken soup.

Humour has always been a Jewish coping mechanism through generations of hardship. It’s our lifeline. We come from a rich tradition of humour. We rely on jokes and laughter as a release from the pain and sadness we experience. When we feel full of fear, the best way to banish it is a big belly laugh. Humour is the perfect antidote to fear. Laughter diminishes the powerful grip of hatred. And the collective experience of laughing with a live audience is not only uplifting: it’s emboldening. It’s one of the reasons why it feels particularly empowering to be bringing back Pickle this April to Soho Theatre, a venue that recently became embroiled in its own antisemitic incident during a stand-up comedy gig. For me, this is all the more reason to bring a story of Jewish joy to this central London stage. Notwithstanding this recent episode, Soho Theatre has a rich tradition of showcasing diverse stories in its inclusive and welcoming venue. The site of an old synagogue on Dean Street, the venue was refurbished in the early 1990s by a Jewish woman – former artistic director and CEO Abigail Morris. The venue has Jewish pedigree. It feels timely and significant to blast out the soundtrack to Pickle featuring bar mitzvah bangers such as Moshiach in the auditorium every night.

When it seems like there’s a wave of hatred hurtling towards us, we need reminding of the abundance of joy in our culture. Someone far cleverer than me recently coined the phrase: “Jewish joy is resistance”. Joy is the best defence we have against the darkness of our times. To find ways to engage in Jewish joy; to bask in Jewish joy, to live it, to be proud of who we are – to remind ourselves of the strength and resilience of our culture. It’s an honour to share a play like Pickle that is so gloriously Jewish. It’s bold and proud. It feels triumphant.

Stepping away from our phones, muting the world outside and entering the theatre auditorium, we can engage in a communal act of Jewish celebration. Celebration that empowers us, lifts up our spirits and reminds us of the strength of our culture and our people. We can revel in Jewish joy – the best form of resistance.

Pickle, written and performed by Deli Segal, produced by Tanya Truman Productions and directed by Kayla Feldman, runs from 15 to 27 April at Soho Theatre.

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