Don’t know your touchus from your schmakiel? Never had a schmeiss at a schvitz? Fear not! Nick Cassenbaum is here to take you on a hilarious journey across London’s North Circular to the last authentic Jewish bathhouse in Canning Town. Armed with not much more than a bathrobe, some imaginative uses for a pineapple and a pair of Klezmer musicians, Cassenbaum invites the audience into his world – just don’t use the word bagel. This is a witty, bawdy and affectionate look at what it is to be both British and Jewish.
On the way, we hear of the joys of South Mimms service station, the disappointment of attending a Tottenham Hotspur game, and how easy it is to get into a bagel-based altercation with a city boy. Then there’s Stacey Pinkus, Jewish summer camp leader and hostage situation re-enactor extraordinaire. Elsewhere we meet his mother, who encourages him at every turn to “get your end away”, and the cluster of elderly men who allow him to come with them to the schvitz (bathhouse) – only for him to realise too late he’s going to have to see them all naked.
The audience are effortlessly taken on board for the ride. I’ve only got the faintest idea about Jewish culture, but Cassenbaum brings his world alive in a way that’s inclusive (thanks to a Yiddish glossary), entertaining and brilliantly written. His pithy summary of a schvitz as “a place to get your mind clear and your bum hole clean” had me in stitches. That, combined with some overly intimate audience participation, made for a riotous hour.
It’s not all jokes though: there’s an unapologetic air of nostalgia, but it never becomes overwhelming. At the very heart of the show, though not dwelt on, is the casual racism he’s faced – and yet even this he frequently makes laugh-out-loud funny.
With language best described as ‘earthy’, the playful tone keeps it the right side of cheeky and makes for a thoroughly rewarding show. Cassenbaum has an unmissable gift for bringing people and places to life in all their gory detail. This is dirty, delightful and downright hilarious storytelling at its very best. You can even buy a souvenir tea towel at the end.