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*Migration Histories > Jewish > Culture and Festivals
* Origins of Yiddish theatre in London 
 
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Crowds leaving the Pavilion Theatre in high spirits after one of the performances.
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Crowds leaving the Pavilion Theatre in high spirits after one of the performances.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (JML) 1105.13
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False moustaches from a Yiddish theatre costume box.
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False moustaches from a Yiddish theatre costume box.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (JML) 1990.112.6a-k
Yiddish theatre was the great popular entertainment of the Jewish East End. In its heyday, several productions a night would be playing to packed houses, with visiting actors from as far afield as Eastern Europe and the United States.

Yiddish was the language spoken by Jews across Eastern Europe. It is rich and expressive, originally a combination of German and Hebrew with later additions of Russian and Polish, and written in Hebrew characters. It is very different, though, from the classic or 'Higher' Hebrew used for religious purposes.

Modern Yiddish theatre developed in the 1860s in Eastern Europe, mostly as a result of the efforts of one man, Abraham Goldfaden, who built on a well-established folk culture. Its popularity spread rapidly, and when the Russian government banned performances in Yiddish in 1883, Yiddish actors joined the great emigration westwards.

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Cover of the sheet music for Abraham Goldfaden's Shulamith, one of the productions at the Princes Street club in 1886.
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Cover of the sheet music for Abraham Goldfaden's Shulamith, one of the productions at the Princes Street club in 1886.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (JML) 1991.2.8
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The opening bars of Shulamith
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The opening bars of Shulamith
* Moving Here catalogue reference (JML) 1991.2.8
The first professional company of Yiddish actors, led by charismatic actor-manager Jacob Adler, arrived in London in 1883 from Riga. Over the next two years they performed in halls and clubs all over the East End. The conditions in which their shows were presented were often terrible, but the company proved increasingly popular. Their first permanent home was the Hebrew Dramatic Club in Princes Street (later Princelet Street), which opened in 1886.

The Princes Street club flourished, showing a range of productions - comedies, melodramas, and translated classics. Little more than a year after it opened, however, it was forced to close, following a tragic accident in which seventeen members of the audience were crushed to death. In spite of this setback, Yiddish theatre continued to grow in popularity over the years that followed, as did Yiddish music hall.

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Creators: Carol Seigel

 
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