The funny thing about this show is that it is unique and controversial. Everyone who wrote a story for We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants has gone on to win a Pulitzer. Or gone to jail. Some critics have warned parents not to take their offsprings to see the performance maybe because of some nudity, maybe because of the crude stories. I’d say that the show would be a bit too difficult for children to understand and they would fall asleep on the chairs. On the other hand, adults will find this hilarious and entertaining in a quirky burlesque way.
South African artist and theatre maker Jemma Kahn – directed by Lindiwe Matshikiza – throws a unique solo performance of seven stories by seven renowned South African writers – running the gamut from orgiastic sex to death to cats with trust funds and everything in between – with Kahn using hundreds of hand painted illustrations and a virtuoso voice, in a twisted take on the ancient Japanese art from ‘kamishibai’ or ‘paper play’.
I did not know anything about the ancient Japanese art form kamishibai and I have felt immediately drawn to this narrative form for its simplicity. Illustrated cardboard panels are revealed one by one with narration. The effect is oddly mesmerising – like watching analogue television. Traditionally kamishibai is street theatre; since the 12th century Japanese performers would (and sometimes still do) travel from village to village on their bicycles using their hand painted stories to entertain and teach.
This explanation does not give justice to the brilliant one-woman performance. It needs to be seen. I have enjoyed most shows at the Riverside Studios – Cages being another example – because of the bohemian free-spirited approach. Sometimes they are irriverent, controversial and extreme but always worth experimenting.
Jemma Kahn, who trained in Fine Art and Drama in Johannesburg and spent two years in Japan – is an extraordinary artist and interpreter of kamishibai. Her work has been seen by audiences all over the globe. This is the first time she’s performed in London and judging from the public’s reaction, she has been a great success.