Brighton Festival 2014
Did you ever wonder what cats dream about when they’re in heat? What happens when a butcher develops a taste for the most beautiful woman in the land? Find out in this weird but wonderful cross-cultural theatrical oddity, rooted in children’s street theatre but definitely not for children…
The Epicene Butcher and Other Stories for Consenting Adults is told through the medium of traditional Japanese Kamishibai, meaning paper theatre. An ancient form of storytelling, it involves a small wooden frame into which slot many painted pictures that illustrate the teller’s story. Due to the rise of TV, this art has begun to die out in Japan, and Third World Television have resurrected it to tell us a very eclectic range of stories from the frankly pornographic to the gruesome.
There are two performers onstage, both dressed in a typically ‘Japanese’ comic book style. The woman, Jemma Kahn, is all furry boots and cutesy bunches and the man, Glen Biderman-Pam, dons an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air with his fluorescent vest and candy filled bum-bag. Kahn is the storyteller and Biderman-Pam is… ‘Chalk boy’. It is a strange role and not one I fully understood. His role was to interact with the audience (without words) before the show, and while the next story was being loaded up he scribbled chalky insults on a blackboard. I suppose he was a clownish figure but I’m not sure how much he added to the whole show, I think I wanted him to be more integral to the storytelling to justify his presence onstage, because in the context he was presented, he felt like a bit of an add-on.
Kahn was a great storyteller, and with enormous energy she spun these diabolical yarns. In many ways the form of Kamishibai struck me to be a lot like puppetry. It didn’t take long for me to focus entirely on the paintings Kahn was bringing to life, much in the same way that a good puppeteer fades into the background as the puppet draws your eye. The artwork took its inspiration largely from Japanese manga and anime drawings, which are themselves informed heavily by the Kamishibai tradition. They were beautifully drawn series of pictures, with hours of work contained in each of the many stories we heard.
The stories themselves were a mixed bunch, some working very well and others falling a little short. They were written by Gwydion Beynon who had obviously drawn heavily and probably adapted some traditional Japanese stories, as well as putting in some clearly original creations. To my mind the best one by far was that of the Epicene Butcher, a horrific take of greed and cannibalism with an extraordinary twist. There was a very strange one, no doubt inspired by the manga-porn that is popular in Japan, which involved Kahn simulating very loud orgasm a mere ten minutes into the show. I am far from a prude, but I feel this story was introduced too early on in the show to allow the audience to feel much other than deep discomfort as they watched the parade of redacted penises and vaginas pass across the wooden screen.
It is great to be able to go to the theatre and see a new form of art presented, and Third World Television have hit on a winner with the Epicene Butcher; a highly portable show, allowing them to travel the world and share their stories, much in the same way as the original travelling Kamishibai street performers.