Review of "In Bocca Al Lupo" at the Alexander Bar

02 February 17

Laura Davidson
Irish lawyer by day, reviewer by night. Theatre, film and comedy enthusiast. Global traveller and avid foodie.
Ever heard of a kamishibai show? Me neither. It uses slotted illustrated boards - apparently the storytelling method of choice for Japanese Buddhist monks in the twelfth century. This is Jemma Kahn's third kamishibai show, co-written with Tertius Kapp, directed by Jane Taylor, and co-produced with POPArt Productions.

If you’re familiar with traditional Manga cartoons, Kahn’s illustrations are more crude and unrealistic; more scrappy.  I admit the production didn’t really sound like my cup of tea, and when Kahn began her narration, I feared I was going to be subjected to an hour of poetry (which is not my favourite genre).  My fears were unfounded.  The show is a warts-and-all memoir of Kahn’s two years in Japan teaching English, with a side-excursion to Ireland. 

However, the production is more compelling than it might sound.  It comes together beautifully through clever lighting and sound design, assisted by Kahn’s smooth transitions.  It’s easy to get caught up in the narrative, which is brutal in its honesty.  The Japanese culture doesn’t fare well.  In today’s spiraling world of xenophobia, we find ourselves cringing (yet suppressing smiles, which feels so wrong) when Kahn announces that Japan is a country with which there is something profoundly wrong.  Her description of life in an other-culture in Kahn’s mid-twenties is at times raw, at times riotous, at times shocking.  We’re given mere snapshots of her life at home via awkward Skype calls with partially seen relatives; her mother going through chemo, her grandmother Fou-Fou, her father’s indifference.  Yet Kahn’s angst results in some hilarious observations.  We simultaneously cry and laugh with her as she describes her birthday wearing a cake hat with three nerdy students who love her non-reciprocally, silently screaming at Japan’s excessive politeness and mesh of impossible multiple meanings.  
Kahn is not afraid to admit to the abject loneliness which consumed her as she lived within, but separate from, a culture so different from her own.  The mysteries of that multi-layered country remained mostly out of reach throughout her sojourn.  It was such loneliness which caused her life to take an unexpected turn, as she reached out in desperation to a scruffy Irish tourist in an unlikely Beatle’s café, thinking about Yesterday.  Kahn manages a more than passable Irish accent (which, coming from Northern Ireland, I feel well placed to assess) as she mimics her erstwhile boyfriend.  Our heroine escapes from Japan and rushes into the arms of Edward with his Irish brogue, having forgotten the shortness of the man and his regrettable lack of hygiene.  For a while his sordid digs, grungy loser-flatmates and addictions seem better than returning to Japan.  Some of the visuals in this part of the narrative are of a graphic nature, such as Kahn’s depictions of the side-effects of speed - so don’t come if you’re easily offended by genital drawings.   
We leave Kahn heading into the wolf’s mouth – the title of the production.  Good luck to her, as she blinks like a rabbit caught in headlights.  The ending is an abrupt surprise.  But how better to end this show?  Kahn has embraced a genre which is inherently Japanese, so I have a suspicion that her experience of the country wasn’t quite as bad as she recollects.  Or perhaps she feels a certain nostalgia, now that years have intervened and interrupted her memories.  Or is this production even a memoir?  Has Kahn ever been to Japan?  The lack of clarity is exactly why you’ll enjoy this production.  Intrigued?  Tickets are selling out fast, so get your fingers tapping online and ensure your name is on a seat.
Show times: 
2nd – 4th, 6th – 11th February at 19:00
Cost: R110 - R130

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