What a title! Let’s face it, I have to start there. I was interested immediately without knowing a thing about the show. It turns out that We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants is a collection of seven stories, all performed by Jemma Kahn, from seven renowned South African authors. Okay, there are six South African writers and one somewhat more local, who provides a comedy highlight, but best let you find that one out for yourself.
After an introductory comedy burlesque in which Kahn engages with the audience and sets the scene as being a little meta, we move through an illustrated story. Kahn displays these illustrations in a wooden box at centre stage while narrating, with a fantastic selection of impressions, the story of a disengaged lazy young man through to his abrupt ending.
There is a brief interlude for Kahn to explain Kamishibai to us. This is her take on a Japanese tradition which roughly translates as ‘paper play’. Using the small box in the centre of stage, tales are narrated while Kahn reveals a series of hundreds of illustrations (Kahn, Carlos Amato & Rebecca Haysom) to accompany the stories.
Our seven stories for the evening are based on the seven deadly sins. The range of the sins and the stories provides a showcase for Kahn’s wide-ranging talent, mixing comedy with impeccable timing, physical theatre, expressive reactions and some not-so-light violence against fruit and vegetables. Kahn is magnetic and we cannot take our eyes off her. What’s more is that she’s not relying on the same presentation for each story. While the tools of the Kamishibai might be the same, she doesn’t do the same impressions or the same reactions throughout, but shifts each time and makes it easy for us to forget she is just one person.
It would be a challenge to pick a highlight, since all the stories are funny and biting. Pride, the story written by Kahn herself does stand out for being stripped back a little bit. There is less use of narration, the artwork tells more of the story, and this personal piece hits the audience hard. The artwork is superb throughout, with the ditty about a little kitty giving us the hilarious image of a golden fish inside the kitty! The show is marked for adults only and as we come towards the end, you might find yourself wondering why, after all, the burlesque at the start is more comedy than titillation. But fear not, because the final story leads down a path of debauchery with a very graphic description of a threesome and the use of food and drink to accentuate pleasure!
We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants is absolutely all over the place – by intent. There is a little bit of whiplash from the constant flux, a sense of wonder about what we just saw and how on earth someone came up with all of it, but it’s hugely funny and entertaining and weird. Even with the great variety of theatre in London, Kahn’s version of Kamishibai brings something different and unique. She has been presenting this successfully all over the world for years, but this is her London debut and it is long overdue.
Written by: Nicholas Spagnoletti, Justin Oswald, Tertius Kapp, Jemma Kahn, Rosa Lyster & Lebogang Mogashoa
Directed by: Lindiwe Matshikiza
Artwork by: Jemma Kahn, Carlos Amato & Rebecca Haysom
We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants plays Riverside Studios until 4 February 2023. Tickets and further information can be found here.