by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice
Four years ago, Ruth Cockburn pulled me off the street from the misery of the rain and the festival blues and into the bottom of a tapas restaurant. Cockburn was glowing amidst the bright yellow and blues of the slightly odd venue typical of the fringe festival and she manged to charm an audience more intent on sheltering from the rain than anything else. She became one of my magical fringe finds who touch your heart by chance.
This year I am thrilled to see that she has a show at Summerhall – Love Letters from Blackpool. Saving it until my last day I feel like I am paying homage to my young self and hoping her work is as delightful as I remember. Cockburn is every-woman – down to earth but a hopeless romantic, the most expressive smile and a gritty voice letting out the odd “fuck”. She sings with an honest vulnerability with words of the worldly wise through the eyes of a young lady navigating a world of love and heart ache.
The show is structured around a series of songs, spoken word, recorded interviews and written letters of love and people shaped and made in Blackpool. She sings little ditties with her guitar about the “Popular girl at school”, “My love’s better than your love”, and “You know how I take my tea”. Her song writing goes beyond these anecdotes revealing a darker response to the sentimental themes. She transitions easily between singing, spoken word and just chit chatting with us. She almost wells ups, as do I throughout the show. Love Letters from Blackpool is a lovely piece and Cockburn is one of those performers who makes you want to be her best friend.
Another one of those down-to-earth performers who you immediately decide is your best friend is Nick Cassenbaum. He brings high energy storytelling and comedy to a heavy last night at the fringe.
Like Cockburn, he uses autobiographical material that exposes a vulnerability that connects right to the core of individual audience members. His work prompts you to question and reflect on the world without knowing it. Bound up in laughter, impressions and family stories, his ability to layer poignant stories over silliness makes his work rich and riveting.
As he meanders down the queue of audience members collecting people’s childhood heroes, he primes his audience to accept and hear about his childhood hero, Michael Barrymore. In My Kind of Michael, we join Cassenbaum in his memories of his aunties, his working-class routes that shape the humour and the people that we hear about and we get to know Nick the child as well as the naughty adult.
I am glad of the pint I had prior as I am ushered onstage to open a present as the young Nick, and then whenever his auntie is proud of him she comes for a smacker on the forehead which I gladly receive in his stead throughout the show.
Cassenbaum has a fluidity to his voice and a well-honed rhythm to his storytelling using silences and gestures to navigate viewers through content, prompting emotions and reactions to his text.
Andy Kelly plays live music and acts as a counterpart to Cassenbaum’s raucousness, often the butt of the jokes, they make an uncanny pair. Whether it’s through family, autobiography or geography, both Cockburn and Cassenbaum create a sense of place for themselves so grounded and evocative that you can’t help but feel safe for the small amount of time that you are a part of their stories.
Nick Cassenbaum will tour My Kind of Michael in London, coming to a wedding or bar mitzvah near you.
Love Letters from Blackpool runs until 26 August.
My Kind of Michael runs until 26 August.
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