Epicene Butcher

Epicene ButcherAdelaide Fringe. Holden Street Theatres. 13 Feb 2014

Ancient Japanese street theatre delivered via South Africa. It sounds very "Fringey" and, indeed, it is.

Even the name, ‘Epicene Butcher’, is puzzling. It makes no sense at all until one has seen the story told which only happens after the Chalk Boy has warned on the blackboard that this item is definitely not for vegetarians.

‘Epicene Butcher’ is Jemma Kahn's show but she has a stage assistant who, despite the red Lolita glasses, lipstick and nail polish, we are assured is essential to this form of Japanese performance called Kamishibai. It is the early forerunner to Manga - illustrated story telling or "paper drama". It was once the provenance of monks. Now, under Kahn delivery, it is definitely an out-there moveable feast which roams from the philosophical to the raunchy to the mythical to the political.

The Chalk Boy punctuates the stories by writing a few key intro words on a blackboard. He also presents each audience member with a sweetie.

Kahn appears as a vivid cross-cultural creature with fluffy pink leggings, shorty short skirt, chain and skeleton necklace... Her South African accent is not immediately evident. She's a beautifully-trained performer with a rich voice, absolute enunciation and very good timing. This is why, of course, she can hold an audience in thrall with a box full of drawings.

The audience is seated on the stage of The Arch, gathered around Kahn and her picture box.
It is proximate theatre.

First she tells the story of the monk and the carp which does not prepare one for the erotica which is to follow. Then again, there is a deliciously quirky analysis of cat dreaming which features the famous YouTube cat, Maru. And, there is a tale about Mario of the early computer game. Epicene, it eventuates, is a geisha pursued by the royal butcher in a strangely sweet tale about cannibalism. A little cameo about Nelson Mandela largely delivered in Japanese is least successful of the collection while a wordless depiction of tsunami-ravaged Fukishima brings a tear to the eye.

In less than an hour, Kahn has taken her audience through a rich range of experiences and a wealth of wonderful artwork, much of her own creation in collaboration Gwydion Beynon.

It is so different, so intimate, arresting and intense that it will live long and happily in mind's eye.

Samela Harris

When: 16 to 28 Feb
Where: Holden Street Theatres - The Arch
Bookings: adelaidefringe.com.au