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Saturday, September 24, 2016


(Jemma Khan. Pic by Nardus Engelbrecht)

An enjoyable and different piece of theatre. (Review by Keith Millar)

In Bocca Al Lupo translates from Italian to “into the mouth of the wolf” and is used to wish a performer good luck, much the same way as “break a leg” is used in English.

The phrase is pretty apt going by the story told by actress Jemma Khan about her rather befuddling experiences during her sojourn in Japan and Ireland where she spent time after completing her drama studies.

One thing she did learn in Japan, that has led to considerable success in her life, is the ancient Japanese form of street theatre called Kamishibai. Literally meaning paper-drama, it uses beautifully illustrated panels, which are revealed one at a time from a wooden box, to help the narrator to tell a story.

On her return to South Africa, she and her collaborator Gwydion Beynon used this style of theatre to develop the global cult hit production, The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults. She followed this up with the award winning We Didn't Come to Hell for the Croissants. Then to complete her trilogy of Kamishibai productions she created In Bocca Al Lupo which was seen at the Hilton Arts Festival this year.

In In Bocca Al Lupo, Khan moves away from the format of relating several different stories and instead tells her own story about a rather turbulent period in her life.

She reveals that after completing her degree she decided not to follow the usual route of a drama graduate which is along the lines of - get degree - get agent - develop eating disorder - become estate agent. Instead, she decided to travel overseas to “find herself”.

She spent two difficult years teaching English in Japan and then followed a rather dead beat, dope-loving boyfriend to Ireland, before returning home and to the success of the Epicene Butcher.

It is a deeply personal, warts and all story which is both disturbing and heart-warming and, at times, very funny. Jemma Khan is a gifted actress and story-teller and she holds her audience intrigued and transfixed from beginning to end.

She not only wrote the script but also painted all the panels for this production. There are four different frames which are used to reveal the many panels during the story and Khan is very adept at coordinating this operation while telling the story without a hesitation or lapse in concentration.

The production is excellently illustrated with sound effects and music. There are over 140 play-in cues in the script and this technical feat was achieved without an error. Quite an achievement, despite the help of a computer programme.

In Bocca Al Lupo Is an enjoyable and different piece of theatre. It would be relished by those who enjoy something out of the mainstream. – Keith Millar

For more information on the annual Hilton Arts Festival visit