Battersea Arts Centre, London – until 22 April 2017
Nick Cassenbaum grew up in London’s Jewish community and experienced all the cultural mores that go with it – Spurs games, dubious summer camps, trips to Israel and discovering his willy isn’t like the other boys’ at school. Like many young people as he got older, he hadn’t quite found his place in the world. Until he went with his grandfather, Papa Alan, to the Canning Town bathhouse.
Nick’s car journey to the bathhouse for the first time leads not only round the North Circular, but the moments in his past where he didn’t fit in. Anxiety about this new experience creeps in, along with plenty of humour and a delightful mashup of cultures. His script skillfully jokes in one line, then contemplates in the next. There’s a notable influence from stand-up comedy, though executed with a more reflective, affectionate approach. It’s deliciously funny whilst maintaining an honest poignancy.
Accompanied by John MacNaughton and Josh Middleton on accordion and clarinet, the piece is fleshed out with Klezmer, pop songs and comedy sound effects not unlike live foley. It’s a great choice for a work that spans generations, and adds another level of humour. Recorded sound effects could just as easily be used, but the interplay between Cassenbaum and the musicians is fantastic.
Cassenbaum is a charming, personable performer and natural storyteller who rallies the audience to him from the start. His need for community carries into the show, and we willingly join him, and each other – transitions involve a collective breath that focuses and re-centres. We also join him at summer camp, and a volunteer from the audience joins him in the ritual schmeiss, one of the treatments on offer at the bathhouse. It’s as giggly and awkward as his own first time receiving the treatment, and a lovely moment of trust between him and a stranger.
With a clear story arc and a charming performance that speaks to everyone’s need to fit in, Bubble Schmeisis is not just a performance, but an invitation to connect. It’s reassuring and positive and cuddly, and reminds us that it’s possible to find our place in the chaos and disconnect that comes with living in the modern world. And it’s bloody funny and moving, too.