Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Nick Cassenbaum: My Kind Of Michael

By | Published on Friday 17 May 2019

Our readers may have noticed that we are fans of Nick Cassenbaum: this isn’t the first time we’ve interviewed him, and I expect it won’t be the last, plus, we’ve published glowing words in review form about his very excellent shows.

This week he brings his critically acclaimed show about events in the life of Michael Barrymore to London’s Battersea Arts Centre as part of a UK tour. I spoke to Nick to find out more about the show, and what inspired it.

CM: Can you start by telling us a bit about the content of the show? What angle does it take in looking at the life of the subject?
NC: The show explores Michael Barrymore’s rise to fame and his huge fall and looks at why that happened. It also looks at why he is my childhood hero and why I believe he is still one of the most important entertainers we have had in the UK – and why I think we need entertainers like him. ‘My Kind of Michael’ is a celebration of his work, but it also asks questions about the role of the entertainer and their relationship with the audience. I’ve made a very short trailer for it that people can watch here.

CM: In case of readers who don’t know much about him, can you tell us a bit about Michael Barrymore?
NC: Michael Barrymore was the most popular entertainer and TV presenter in the late 80s and 90s, and one of the last true working class entertainers we have had. He hosted game shows, talent shows and had his own chat show. He was famous for being unpredictable and you never knew what to expect with him. He also had the innate ability to get the best out of regular people. As well as interviewing famous people, he would also interview members of the public and make them seem like stars for the ten minutes they joined him. He was an absolute expert at making people feel at ease and genuinely loved his audience.

CM: Are there elements of your own experience in there?
NC: Yes, the show is also about how and why Barrymore is my hero and how I came to become a performer. It tells the story of my nana Sylvia who introduced me to him by giving me a VHS of ‘Barrymore’s Best Bits’ when I was seven years old – and how she decided I was going to be the entertainer of the family. So there are plenty of personal anecdotes in there as well.

CM: Can you tell us about the format of the piece? It’s a bit game-show like, isn’t it?
NC: Yes it is. The show has several formats in there. It has storytelling, there is a narrative running through the show. But it also has moments where the audience get to play a version of Barrymore’s hot show ‘Strike It Lucky’ with me. And we also play around with the format of the iconic and long running show ‘This is Your Life’, which is borrowed from a schtick Barrymore did himself.

CM: What themes do you explore through the show?
NC: The themes the show explores are all around what it means to be an entertainer and how the audience treats them. It looks at this theme through the framework of being on television in the 90s when we in the UK had probably the most aggressive tabloid culture we have ever had. They really would build people up to become big stars then enjoy knocking them down again with written attacks on them and their families. So this extends to the disposable nature of celebs and whether or not as an audience we have a responsibility of care over those we watch and laugh with.

CM: What made you want to make a show on this subject, these themes?
NC: I always wanted to make a show about Barrymore. I believe him to be a fantastic entertainer. When myself and Danny Braverman began writing the show that’s when these themes really started to come to the forefront when he delved into his life more. It was through the writing that we found that these themes are urgent and apply to how we treat celebs now. Especially with the suicide of ‘Love Island’ contestants, why are we treating our celebs like this?

CM: Our reviewer loved the show when he saw it in Edinburgh last summer. How did that go from your perspective?
NC: Edinburgh was an interesting experience. The people who came and saw the show loved it. However, it was a difficult sell. We got a lot of negative and homophobic attention on the streets when flyering the show, we found this astounding that it was happening at an arts festival. People still feel like they can say such vile things about him. It was a challenge, but gave me a lot more empathy for the man himself. But after the fringe he did get in touch to talk about it and say thank you to me for representing him. This short phone call with my hero, made it all worth it.

CM: What plans are there for the show after these London dates?
NC: The show will continue to tour all across the UK into the autumn including a date at Pulse Festival on 4 June.

CM: What’s happened with ‘Bubble Schmeisis’ now? Has it been retired, or will you perform it again at some point?
NC: Bubble Schmeisis is still going strong and celebrates its 5th birthday next year. We are rural touring it this Autumn and I am sure it will keep going.

CM: Do you have any new projects in the planning stages?
NC: I do actually have a few on the go. I’m currently under commission to write a piece about people leaving the Hasidic Jewish Community in Stamford Hill, that is for the Royal Court.

I am also working with my ex-girlfriend Isolde Godfrey AKA performance artist Foxy and Husk to make a show about first love!

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
NC: To keep working, making, performing and writing and be able to feed and clothe myself doing it.

‘My Kind Of Michael’ is on at Battersea Arts Centre from 21-22 May, ahead of a UK tour. For info, see the venue website here.

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Photo: The Other Richard