The Epicene ButcherRobyn Sassen
My View by Robyn Sassen: Taking you on a pre-Manga, pre-Hentai, pre-Pokemon foray into Japanese story-telling, Jemma Kahn realises a production nothing short of perfect.
Don’t get me wrong. Foregrounding a total lack of artifice, this work vies from slick or polish with such vehemence it turns a spectrum on the notion of perfect, in its seven stories told with voice and pictures in the age old Kamishibai technique.
This ultimate travelling theatre concept originated in the 12th century but enjoyed popular following in the 1920s and again in the 1950s. A story is told sequentially with images contained in a box that acts as a stage. Complete with a wooden washing horse on which the ‘stage’ stands, wooden clappers to announce each new story and sweets for those in the first row, it’s hawker theatre at its most enticing and delightful, and this production embraces it with a fond and sophisticated sense of authenticity.
The stories range in focus from traditional, virtually mythic Japanese accounts of good and evil; to sheer pornography which sees the voluptuous girl in the girlie mag phone and visit the drooling girlie mag reader; to a wordless tale of love, loss and refinding lost love in the wake of a tsunami; a pseudo-scientific tale of feline dreamcatchers; and another about South Africa, in a thickly pseudo-Japanese accent and perception, casting affectionate mockery of both foreignness and the story of Nelson Mandela’s life into relief.
The pinnacle of the production rests on the eponymous tale, central to the anthology of stories. Think of Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” in all its grim humour and horrifying flick-flacks in narrative predictability. It’s a story of promises, fabulous gustatory delights, erotic pleasure and choice, and also moral horror that ultimately will leave you wrenched and enthused and wishing for more. But it is the conscious and sophisticated clean vying from slickness that holds you tighter and more entranced.
The set is defined by two stage-high plinths covered in Japanese newspapers, as well as a charmingly self-conscious row of Japanese kitsch, from the wind-up kitty with a waving paw, to the truncated plastic swimming pool horse, the kind you find hawkers selling at traffic lights, balanced by a row of bedside lamps which light the show. Further, a mysterious character who is never explained, not even in the theatre credits of the programme, goes under the title of “Chalk Girl”. A spoof on a superhero, with ambiguous sexuality, she sports a tatty tartan mini, an eye patch and a piece of chalk, which counterpoised with a blackboard on an easel, is the between-the-stories device introducing the work.
And no, not even for a second, are you allowed to look or think beyond the constructed nature of this brilliant piece of theatre.
“The Epicene Butcher and other stories for consenting adults” is written by Gwydion Beynon, directed by John Trengove and performed by Jemma Kahn. It performs at the Nunnery, Wits Theatre Complex, Braamfontein, until August 11.
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Wits 969 Festival
Dates: Tuesday, 7th August 2012 - Saturday, 11th August 2012
Wits Theatre Complex, Braamfontein Johannesburg Gauteng South Africa