Obituary: David Segal

One of the most popular figures in English Yiddish theatre for nearly 50 years was the splendid character actor David Segal.

He found his true metier and great popularity in comedy character roles. His entrance was always greeted by a warm round of applause, which would later erupt into gales of laughter.

Playing in weekly repertory, it would have been easy for him to impose the persona of David Segal on to the stock comedy characters that were part of the repertoire. Instead, he chose to immerse himself in the character he was playing and would transform himself into the hen-pecked husband, the put-upon beadle of the local synagogue, or the busybody matchmaker.

Segal had received his training in classical Yiddish theatre and could acquit himself admirably in many of the classic roles of the repertoire. Particular highlights of his work were Hershele, the Scribe in Gordin's God, Man and Devil, the Rabbi in Anski's The Dybbuck and what the press described as "a towering performance" in the Sholem Aleiche Centenary production of Hard to be a Jew. He won great acclaim when playing the title role in the Yiddish production of The Merchant of Venice in 1946.

Segal's great versatility was helped by his mastery of the art of make- up. This was extraordinary, as he was colour-blind and could only choose the correct colour by checking the numbers on his make-up sticks.

David Segal was born in Vilna, Poland, into a family with no theatrical background, but his love of the Yiddish language and the theatre led him to join an amateur group as a teenager and he became a professional actor in his early twenties. He toured Poland with the leading Yiddish actors of the day and from 1928 until 1933 appeared in Romania along with his wife, the actress Meta Segal.

They both arrived in London in 1933 as members of the Pavilion Theatre company, under the aegis of the actress/manager Madam Fanny Waxman. These were the final performances of Yiddish theatre at the Pavilion before it closed later that year. With Fanny Waxman's company, the Segals toured the provinces and later appeared in Belgium, alongside such luminaries as Jacob Ben Ami and Berta Gersten.

David Segal later became a member of the Yiddish National Theatre, in the East End of London, under the artistic direction of Meier Tzelniker, with whom he later successfully toured South Africa.

The outbreak of the Second World War found Segal on the sea voyage back to England, where he and his wife decided to make their permanent home. He joined the company at the Grand Palais, where he worked until the theatre closed in the early Sixties, and then toured with the company, which went on to operate on a mobile basis. He continued to work until his 80th year.David Segal, actor: born Vilna, Poland 22 October 1901; married Meta Sloviesna (died 1982); died London 6 February 1997.

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