Hold the Pickle

Nicole Eckersley

Rachel Berger’s one woman show is poignant, hilarious & beautifully characterised.
Hold the Pickle
Rachel Berger’s one-woman show, Hold The Pickle, is excellent. Sure, maybe opening night audiences are generous, but I stood up with the rest of that standing ovation, and clapped heartily. Those who might have seen Berger’s filth-tastic political stand-up shouldn’t by any means expect more of the same. This is a beautiful and funny sketch of Berger’s life growing up, and the lives of her parents during the World War II.

Any show that began at La Mama and is now playing in the cushiony 1980s glamour of the Fairfax Studio has got to have a proven track record, and the show was nominated for three Green Room awards in 2008. The La Mama staircase has been faithfully imported to the Arts Centre, but now an audience of 376 can enjoy Berger’s really rather excellent work at once.

This is a play, first and foremost, about being Jewish. Not about religion, mind you; this is a play about a heritage of survival, of the unspeakable, about being sent to school with embarrassing rye bread sandwiches, about the Jewish polyglot of Acland Street (before it went all ‘international beachside’), and about family.

Berger plays her mother and her father as well as herself, faultlessly jumping in and out of accents and re-creating people right down to their grammatical mistakes. Beginning in a ghetto in (unless I’m much mistaken) Lublin in 1942, Berger (as her mother Rose) takes us down her parents’ long and harrowing roads, to eventually end up, by way of Spotswood, in a deli in Acland Street. There’s plenty of levity to counteract the occasional tear-jerking, and by the time Berger is describing her own youth, every moment of isolation and difference is wrung for maximum amusement value.

The title, Hold The Pickle, doesn’t refer to a deli order – in fact, according to Berger, orders were mostly given in the form, “Mayke me a sandwich, Mrs Berger... you know vuot I like,” – but instead to assisting her one-armed father Markus in retrieving the troublesome Polski ogorki dill pickles from their barrel. Berger’s role as her father’s left arm even extended to cutting up his schnitzels for him. “Problem is, I still cut up food for the men I go out with,” she says. “They’re Jewish, they seem to like it.”

Of course, there’s a possibility that I’m biased in my love of this show, being the granddaughter of Polish Jews, having spent glorious afternoons drooling over babka and kugelhupf from Monarch Cakes, and having been forced, like Berger, to take wonky rye bread sandwiches to school.

Berger’s Deli is gone now, along with Scheherezade, while Monarch appears to have begun the downward slide, with a sad array of cupcakes on its wooden shelves. But for an hour or so, Berger brings the pickle-centric diaspora back to life.

It’s difficult to review a play like this, because there’s nothing to pick holes in. This is a poignant, hilarious, entertaining, beautifully characterised show, and I would highly recommend getting a ticket for one of the remaining performances. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest selling a kidney to do so, but a bit of liver? For sure.

Rating: Four and a half stars

Hold The Pickle
Written and performed by Rachel Berger
Produced by Simon Myers and Andrew Barker
Associate Producer: Connie Monteleone
Set & Lighting Design: Matthew Peckham
Lighting Realisation: Michele Preshaw
Stage Manager: Jessica Wong

The Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
September 20 – 24

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Nicole Eckersley is a Melbourne based writer, editor and reviewer.