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Wednesday, July 5, 2017


(Jemma Kahn & Roberto Pombo)

I think on this occasion the stories went a bit far in their hedonistic excesses. (Review by Keith Millar)

Jemma Khan is a massively talented theatre practitioner. She came across Kamisibai, an ancient Japanese art of storytelling, while on a teaching sojourn to that country. Kamisibai literally translated means paper theatre and involves beautifully painted boards which are revealed one after the other to illustrate the story which is been told.

Using this style of theatre, she created her celebrated production, The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories. It was a massive hit. Totally off the wall, sexy, provocative, scary and very funny. But most of all it was innovative, new and fresh.

It took the festival circuit, both locally and abroad by storm, winning many awards along the way – and developed something of a cult following. I myself may have been a cult member as I saw the production three times and have never tired of singing its praises.

Now back at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is Khan’s follow up to the Epicene Butcher, intriguingly entitles We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants.

It is not a brand-new production. In fact it won a Silver Standard Bank Ovation Prize at the Festival in 2015. Nor is it a sequel of what went before but rather seven new stories along similar vein.

Only this time I wonder if they have not gone a step too far. The production is much darker and seems to have descended into the seamier side of life to a world of smut, debauchery, fetishes and gore. Rather than keeping to the naughty but nice formula that worked so well

However, having said that, the production is attracting full house audiences to a 10pm performance time. That speaks for itself and suggests that the piece retains its loyal fan following. In fact, I have never seen so many male buns and top knots along with straggly beards and designer scarves at one place before in my life. And they howled and brayed with laughter – I am not sure always in the right places – and at one point, I thought the young man a few seats away from me was going to need medical attention he was so excited

One thing is certain, Jemma Khan is a brilliant performer. Her delivery is impeccable, extracting every nuance for the words and using exquisite timing. She has a beautiful, expressive face which she uses to maximum effect in telling her stories. She has her audience in the palm of her hand.

Her assistant in the storytelling, Roberto Pombo, is no mean talent himself. He plays the decadent debauched and irreverent, sidekick with perfection and is very, very funny.

I have mixed feelings about We Didn’t Come to Hell fort The Croissants. I still like the storytelling formula but I think on this occasion the stories went a bit far in their hedonistic excesses.

I think I can safely say I am no longer a cult member. – Keith Millar

There are performances at 22h00 at the Princess Alice Hall in Grahamstown on July 6, 7 and 8.