Sadie’s ‘Mumalushen’ Yiddish makes her an East End star
VISITORS to Sadie Scopp’s small but brightly decorated flat are plied with smoke salmon sandwiches and seven decades of her life’s memories on the stage as soon as they walk in. You sit in her parlour in a council block in Stepney Green gazing at Yiddish Theatre posters and thumbing through photos of another world—the East End of post-war Britain, each with a story she recalls avidly as if it was yesterday.
You read through her reviews which appeared regularly in the ethnic press in the 1950s, Yidisha Schtimmer (Jewish Voice), published from offices in Whitechapel.
She tells you everything you ask, except her age—“I’m a recycled teenager.”
Sadie is perhaps the last East End Yiddish actress still working, albeit occasional voice-overs for film and TV.
But her real love is theatre. Yiddish Theatre.
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She was six when she first trod the boards, by a chance encounter.
“Dad had a butcher’s shop and I was on my way to school and popped in to see him,” she recalls.
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“Etta Toppel the actress just happened to be in the shop buying a chicken and heard me speak Yiddish to Dad and asked if I could be in a play with her.
“It was hard to find child actors speaking Yiddish because the Orthodox Jewish community didn’t let their kids in the theatre.
“But dad said yes. I was thrilled. It got me off school from time to time!”
Her stage debut was playing Etta Toppel’s child in ‘Frailicher Mishpucha,’ or ‘Happy Family,’ at the Grand Palais Yiddish Theatre in the Commercial Road.
It was a comedy with a touch of drama and a sing-along, the staple diet of entertainment for the East End’s working class Jews in the 1940s and 50s. They would pay anything from half-a-crown (12.5p) to 10 shillings (50p) for the weekly shows.
Yiddish theatre was strong, with audiences drawn from the large community of East Europeans, many of them refugees from Nazi persecution.
It was a chance for them to speak ‘Mumalushen’—Yiddish for ‘mother tongue’.
At 15, Sadie couldn’t wait to sign professionally with the London Yiddish Players, a rare teenager who could act in ‘Mumalushen’.
“I loved the limelight,” she tells you. “But I had to give up family functions like weddings and barmitzvahs which were always at weekends when I was on stage.”
One role she remembers was as the daughter in ‘The Chazenter’ (‘The Canter’s Wife’), being married off in a ‘shiddach’ (matchmaking) by the mother played by one of the East End’s best-known Yiddish actresses of the day, Anna Tzelnicker.
Sadie is still in touch with Anna, who is now in her 90s and also living in Stepney.
But audiences began dwindling in the 1960s and 70s as fewer people still spoke in ‘Mumalushen’ and most Jewish families were moving out of the East End.
“The audiences were getting smaller and the money was running out,” Sadie recalls. “I was glad to leave the stage. I thought, ‘Sadie—put your foot on the ground and get a real job.”
She ended up as an Overseas telephone operator for the GPO, forerunner of BT, but continued in occasional roles on stage for the next 30 years.
She is still booked for rare film and TV work because of her ‘Mumalushen’ acting skill, including ‘voiceovers’ in Schindler’s List in 1993 which were dubbed at Shepperton studios.
“I felt proud to be part of Speilberg’s portrait of the ghettos of Occupied Europe,” she says. “I still get goose-pimples 18 years later when I watch the scene of screaming mothers in a concentration camp running towards lorries transporting their children to another camp.
“I know a few Holocaust survivors and that scene still haunts me.”
But Sadie doesn’t dwell on the past, despite her home packed with old theatre programmes and a dozen photo albums.
She likes meeting the younger generation, those who today she says don’t have the same ‘muzel tov’ she had in the post-War years.
“It’s important youngsters are creative with their time,” she would tell them.
“But don’t go into show business—it’s precarious and all a matter of luck. You are more likely to end up waiting tables or washing dishes. You’ve got to have a ‘menschleche’ of a profession.”
She adds prophetically: “Lag nisht oop oif morgen vis di kenst tin hient”—don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.