Theatre-maker bares all about Canning Town Schvitz and Jewish identity
- Credit: Philip Kleinfield
Barbers and Spurs football stands may be a rite of passenge for many London Jews – but not for Nick Cassenbaum.
The actor, writer and theatre-maker says his sense of belonging was cultivated within the steamy walls of Canning Town Schvitz, one of the few authentic bath houses left in London.
“It is just a place where it is about sitting together,” the 28-year-old said. “It is kind of aggressive but loving, a place where men talk.”
Nick was introduced to the borough’s schvitz by his grandfather six years ago, who is its East Ham organiser.
The experience proved so formative that he has since created his one-man comedy, Bubble Schmeisis, which comes to Stratford Circus on Wednesday (Nov 16).
Central to the ritual of the schvitz is the washing (schmeising) of your fellow bathers while telling bubbemeises – Yiddish fables.
It’s as much about male bonding and self-realisation as it is about relaxation, according to Nick.
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“[In the show] I tell stories about trying to forge an identity in London,” he said. “This is the only place where I really felt some kind of identity.”
Anecdotes from Nick’s youth are interweaved into the show and he frequently acknowledges his “failed attachment” to the other few remaining secular congregation spots such as summer camps.
It’s important therefore, he adds, that the bath houses are still going.
“They have a specific identity as a ritual that has been acted out since the 18th century,” he said.
The Jewish bath houses became popular during the period “as people did not have baths” then.
“It only happens now at two bathhouses in London and one of these is in Canning Town,” said Nick.
Although the show has toured elsewhere, it’s only now that is coming to Newham for the first time.
For Nick, who grew up in Redbridge, it’s like a “home coming”.
“I am really excited to do it here.”
Bubble Schmeisis will be at Stratford Circus from November 16-18. Tickets are £13-15, ages 12 and above. Visit stratford-circus.com