Review: The Epicene Butcher

The Epicene Butcher. Picture: Supplied

The Epicene Butcher
4.5 stars
DeLuxe Theatre

REVIEW: David Zampatti

The last two Fringes have been electrified by the South Africans: 2012's . . . miskien and last year's Dirt and the Three Little Pigs reintroduced us to the talent and savage theatrical insight of our mighty Indian Ocean neighbour that we first saw here 40 years ago in The Island and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Athol Fugard's brilliant, excoriating attacks on apartheid.

That power and nerve are here again with Jemma Kahn and Gwydion Beynon's The Epicene Butcher but they come in an exotic form - the venerable Japanese storytelling art of kamishibai, literally "paper drama".

A method used for centuries by monks to tell morality tales to illiterate audiences, and popularised last century by itinerate storytellers travelling between villages to earn a meagre living, kamishibai is simplicity itself; illustrated cards slid out of a wooden frame as the story unfolds like a live comic book.

Kahn's show - she performs it with the silent, sassy "chalk boy" (Glen Biderman-Pam), who does her stage business for her - begins traditionally enough, with the story of a fat, cranky monk, a man who travels a hundred miles for the answer to life and the carp the monk is in a hurry to devour for lunch. Things get decidedly weird thereafter, with a brutally pornographic story of a fantasy girl and the lonely boy who imagines her, and a grimly hilarious reworking of the now classic quest by Mario to rescue Princess Peach.

Most powerful of all is the title story, a haunting epic of love, perversion and cannibalism that silenced the DeLuxe pop-up theatre crowd. They stayed quiet for the wordless, black-and-white Fukushima, a sombre telling of Japan's nuclear disaster. At the end, a rambunctious, irreverent telling of the life of Nelson Mandela in pidgin Japanese sent a happy crowd back into the warm Perth night, a far cry from the disparate cultures and climes this extraordinary little show had taken us to.