My Kind of Michael by Nick Cassenbaum
Childhood heroes are difficult things, often switching from demi-gods to half-buried embarrassment, the kind of information that might worm its way out during a wedding day speech. Nick Cassenbaum’s last show, Bubble Schmeisis, was about the Canning Town Schvitz, the last authentic Jewish bath house in East London, and Cassenbaum’s trips there with his male relatives. Directed by Danny Braverman, as this new one also is, it was as warm, welcoming and edifying as [unimaginative simile alert] a nice, hot bubble bath. This new work, My Kind of Michael, is about another part of the performer’s life: his childhood worship and emulation of Michael Barrymore.
Like Bubble Schmeisis (one of my favourite parts of the Edinburgh Fringe 2016), My Kind of Michael ends up a pleasing mixture of personal anecdotes – this time, his introduction to Barrymore’s comedy by his auntie Sylvie – and a fact file of information on the topic itself. The trick is that Barrymore’s biography is delivered piece by piece in sketches and impersonations in the style of Barrymore. I’ve described that using a fairly a dull sentence, which is unfortunate because Cassenbaum is emphatically never dull. He’s hilarious and charming – so much so that I (almost) forgive him for relying so heavily on my greatest theatrical fear <<<<AUDIENCE INTERACTION>>>> throughout the performance. He might be one of the few humans on stage I (almost) want to interact with – ‘almost’ because I stay largely un-interacted with and instead watch others, including my husband, be jolly good sports doing their bit in the service of fringe theatre.
The style of delivery, which involves a lot of brilliantly awful flashbacks to TV institutions like This Is Your Life and the Royal Variety Show, is as much the point of My Kind of Michael as the passages of direct comment on Barrymore (some of which feel too expository and lose momentum). Cassenbaum’s claim is that entertainers, jesters or clowns (modern and ancient) are often briefly loved by audiences before being dumped at the first hint of ignominy. But these comedians, far from specialising in the most disposable form of showbiz, provide a near-enough spiritual function, unifying an audience by making them feel good and making them laugh. And the thing with Cassenbaum, is he pretty much makes you believe that’s true.
Your Sexts Are Shit by Rachel Mars
I had lived with my now-husband for little under a week when the centuries-old plumbing in our new flat packed up and started spewing shit back up the pipes and out through the toilet. Negotiating a major drainage problem involving no functioning lavatory was not the romantic start to our lives together I had imagined. There are very few things less sexy than a blocked loo, and discussing Dyno-Rods is a sure fire way to remove any suggestion of mystique from a new relationship.
Rachel Mars’s new show Your Sexts Are Shit is ostensibly about dirty missives sent over the years between fucker and fuckee. Two large projections and Mars’s readings of various letters, mainly by famous literary or artistic figures, sets up the conclusion that whether in ink or via text, desperately seeking a shag produces as much unwanted prose as it does progeny. Mars makes use of some of the most famous offenders – James Joyce being the headline act – along with messages well selected for their distracting bizarreness, such as Charles Bukowski (as Nick Cave says, ‘a jerk’) whose sentences pause mid-frig to comment on a fridge.
But despite Mars’s entertainingly deadpan performance of the letters taking up the majority of the show, the more interesting point is subtly hinted at towards the end. Behind the reading of these explicit/erotic/grimy writings is the familiar anxiety that long-term relationships and growing older mark the start of your sex life withering and dying. Nick Cassenbaum’s show, which precedes Mars’s on The Yard’s double bill, ends with a group sing-along of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ In contrast, the question ending Your Sexts Are Shit is ‘Will You Still Fuck Me Tomorrow?’ We will work out a way to reconcile strap-ons and Sainsbury’s orders? Blow jobs and bin days?
This ‘will we be fisting at fifty?’ angst always feels depressing – both in the show and in general. Which isn’t Mars’s fault; she simply articulates an all-too-common concern underwritten by associating sex with youth and the erotic as detached from the everyday. Perhaps we should all stop worrying. Perhaps the sex gets better once you’ve dealt with some shit together.
NOW18 is on at The Yard until 17 February 2018. Click here for more details.