Fancy a schvitz? Woodford theatre maker searches for Jewish identity in modern London

Nick Cassenbaum's one man show, Bubble Schmeisis, is an exploration of modern Jewish identity in Lon

Nick Cassenbaum's one man show, Bubble Schmeisis, is an exploration of modern Jewish identity in London, set in the Canning Town Schvitz. - Credit: Archant

Through the rising steam at the Canning Town Schvitz, east London’s last authentic bath house, old Jewish men can still be found washing and relaxing.

“It’s an odd mixture of masculinity, where these men are swearing and being really crude, and tenderness as they wash each other,” describes Nick Cassenbaum, of the setting for his latest show.

The actor and writer’s comedic new one man play Bubble Schmeisis is a search for modern Jewish identity in London.

The 26-year-old, of Worcester Crescent, Woodford Green, explains: “I went to see Spurs with my dad, which is a rites of passage for young London Jews, and I also went to Jewish camp, and I couldn’t get into them.”

Nick first went to the schvitz four years ago with his grandfather.

“I was really excited, but also a bit nervous about getting naked.

“It’s dying out, I’m about two generations behind most of them.”

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For Nick the schvitz is the last outpost of the Jewish east end, harking back to the days when everyone would live within a couple of miles of each other.

He said: “The old men in my family would talk about this identity but it doesn’t really exist anymore. I think as people have moved across the city the identity has gone with them.

“A lot of people now feel that to have a Jewish identity it has to be religious or to do with Israel, it cannot be secular any more.”

Nick pointed to the beigel shop, in Brick Lane, Spurs and Arsenal football clubs, as clear parts of London Jews’ secular culture.

He added: “A lot of people see these things as trivial but I think they are really important.”

Anecdotes from Nick’s youth, while growing up in Woodford, add colour to these themes.

One that did not make the final script occurred when Nick was on Jewish Camp, aged 14.

“When I got there, the north west London Jews ran over and started shouting and pointing ‘Essex Jews, hide your phones.’”

Nick laughed: “So at night I went upstairs and stole his phone.”

Bubble Schmeisis will be at the RichMix, in Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, on September 5 and at the Camden People’s Theatre, in Hampstead Road, central London from October 13 to 15. Tickets are available from the various box offices.

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