Greeting from the past
Week four of NOW 18 – the Festival of new performance, hosted by The Yard Theatre, welcomes Nick Cassenbaum and Rachel Mars. My Kind of Michael, sensibly orchestrated by Cassenbaum, pays homage to the performer’s childhood hero Michael Barrymore, while Rachel Mars unearths erotic missives of stardoms of the past in Your Sexts Are Shit.
La quarta settimana di NOW 18, acclamato Festival di new performance ospitato da The Yard Theatre, a Londra, accende i riflettori su due talenti indiscussi nello story-telling: Nick Cassenbaum e Rachel Mars. Cassenbaum canterà in My Kind of Michael il suo esilarante tributo all’idolo della TV britannica Michael Barrymore, celeberrimo e controverso presentatore che ha elettrizzato migliaia di spettatori inglesi tra gli anni 80 e il 2000 e ha cambiato per sempre la vita dello stesso Cassenbaum. Rachel Mars, dopo aver raccolto con dedizione centinaia di scandalose missive erotiche firmate James Joyce, Frida Kahlo, Mozart, Charles Bukowski, Eleanor Roosevelt e altri, ne leggerà una selezione per Your Sexts are Shit. Nuovi messaggi erotici (sexts in inglese) saranno ingloriosamente accostati alle vecchie missive, in un sarcastico e impietoso gioco di confronti.
My Kind of Michael is a passionate tribute to his hero since he was a child, a jaunty tale about a relationship. Nick Cassenbaum still doesn’t have a clue about who Michael Barrymore is, when, for his 6th birthday, he receives a videotape about the king of British television. It’s a present from his grandmother, who looks him in the eyes and says, with all the possible solemnity of what sounds more like a spell than a piece of advice, to always follow his guiding light. The hilarious thing is that Nick actually did. With his unique disarming humour, Cassenbaum mocks and celebrates simultaneously what he loves the most: Barrymore. He retraces all of the details of the time at the very moment he received the tape, and decided to watch it. This event became the turning point of his entire life. After that, nothing would ever be the same.
Enlivened by Andy Kelly’s jaunty music, My Kind of Michael playfully brings to vivid light a raggle-taggle bunch of Nick’s childhood memories, and alternates them with crucial episodes of the TV presenter’s life. It snappily delves into Barrymore’s fame and downfall: his encounter with his wife Cheryl, who will be his manager and the mastermind behind his rise to fame, and his unique and controversial personality. As in the presenter’s famous quizzes, the audience is constantly addressed, called on stage, joyfully pricked, and asked opinions. Cleverly, Cassenbaum wants the attendees to actively recreate Barrymore’s character, the events that shaped his public face, including the debated downturn – the revelation of Lubbock’s death. This led to the termination of his contract by ITV, and the collapse of his career on UK television.
Electric, witty, and surprisingly moving, Cassenbaum draws stories with an exceptionally light touch, even when he strikes the most sensitive chords of Barrymore’s life. The only flaw of an otherwise totally engaging performance is probably noticeable by those who have not grown up in Britain, and don’t share the same reference points which the performer constantly alludes to, namely British popular culture and the social backdrop. This doesn’t affect an amiable show in which the viewer is able to relate to Barrymore’s personal experiences, by always resonating the familiar, and smoothly venturing into the most intimate matters without the audience even realising it. This is the kind of work that you will remember long after you have left the theatre.
Some spectators might see Your Sexts are Shit because of an eagerness to creep into Joyce’s and Frida Kahlo’s most intimate affairs, and unearth their lustiest secrets. Some will be thrilled by the idea of bringing them down to earth, and rediscovering them as humans (doesn’t sex make us all equal?). Whatever the reason, there is an unquestionable pleasure in turning, as Rachel Mars says, «something personal and taboo into a communal activity». There is no one better at dealing with these issues than award-winning writer and performance maker Rachel Mars. Mars has a track record of fearlessly dissecting some of the most provocative matters, such as in the sell-out performances of Our Carnal Hearts and Roller.
Your Sexts are Shit, though, is not only about revealing and exploring sexual taboos, but also a sharp investigation, by comparison, of sexual appetite and desire, erotic imagery, and devotion.
These days’ thriving disposable one-off sexual encounter thing is not exactly headline news. Even the most enthusiastic fans of the one-night stand may admit, in some rare moments of clarity, that there is something not exactly fulfilling in immediate gratification. It’s the power of comparison, though, through which Rachel Mars’ show manages to make us stop and reflect. In the face of thousands of sheets of lustful, sexually explicit letters, some of which were written hundreds of years ago, even a modern sex texting wordsmith would pale into insignificance.The selection of 15 letters curated by Mars encompasses names such as James Joyce, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mozart, Charles Bukowski, Radclyffe Hall – all of them exposing the most honest and erotic images of themselves and their lovers. From lush, sublime descriptions of the lover’s body, to explicit detailed accounts of anal sex, these furtive, at times adulterous, lesbian, and even heterosexual encounters are full of aesthetically powerful words. Words that shook up, adulated, provoked, and psyched up the reader in anticipation of a future encounter. In fact, James Joyce and his wife Nora Barnacle wrote to each other for decades. Eleanor Roosevelt and her lover Lorena Hickok exchanged some 4,000 letters during their 30 year long relationship. These incredibly impassioned, and long-lasting exchanges were imbued with longing, lust, and devotion. After presenting each letter, Mars gifts us, with some irony, whatsapp and auto-destructive Snapchat messages written less than exquisitely. This hopeless battle makes us wonder how we ended up with this dichotomy, and if it actually makes sense to have only one word, specifically ‘sex’, to express such a variety of mindstates.
After laugher, though, we might leave the Yard with the uncomfortable feeling that we are missing something seriously meaningful in our erotic exchanges. By the way, no explanations or directives are given by Rachel Mars. Now that we have realised that there is nothing new or notably progressive in our explicit sexual messaging, we are left with the honor and privilege of processing the differences between now and then, by drawing our own conclusions.
My Kind of Michael and Your Sexts are Shit have been staged at:
The Yard Theatre Unit
2A Queen’s Yard White Post Lane London – E9 5EN
until Friday the 9th of February, h 19.00
My Kind of Michael
Created by Nick Cassenbaum and Danny Braverman
Directed by Danny Braverman
Performed by Nick Cassenbaum
Produced by Sian Baxter
Designed by Lotte Brockbank
Music by Andy Kelly
With thanks to Josh Azouz, Anna Smith and Goldsmith University
Supported by The Yard Theatre, Arts Council England and Battersea Arts Centre
Your Sexts are Shit
by Rachel Mars
Sound by Dinah Mullen and Rachel Mars
With thanks to Gemma Curtis, Scott Sheppard, Janke Funke, Lena Wanggren, Melanie Brown, Naomi Woddis, Rhiannon Armstrong and The Yard Theatre
Supported by The Yard Theatre, first piloted at Camden People’s Theatre