You never know what might happen at Cape Town’s Alexander Theatre – that’s the beauty of the place! The Mother City is rich in creativity, energy, and talented artists. Last night’s performance – In Bocca al Lupo – was a phenomenal one-woman show!
Before last night, I hadn’t experienced the art of kamishibai – “a twelfth century Japanese form of storytelling where a tale is presented with the help of cardboard panel illustrations”. In Bocca al Lupo was totally engrossing!
Jemma Kahn studied kamishibai under “veteran Japanese performer Roukda Genji, and the two performed throughout Japan”. In Bocca al Lupo is Jemma’s memoir – or maybe not. I didn’t know about her before last night’s performance, so the story that kept the audience engaged could have been her own, or perhaps it was fictional?
“While kamishibai may be the device Kahn uses to portray her tales, it’s not the only thing that sets her apart as a master storyteller.”
To summarize simplistically, the memoir begins as the story of a young South African woman who feels like a failure living a boring life. She decides to spice things up and expand her world by embarking on a two-year adventure teaching English in Japan.
“Kahn has the charisma of an old Hollywood starlet. To be a member of her audience is to be in a state of enchantment for a full 80 minutes.”
After living in Japan for several months, Jemma experiences culture shock and ponders its four stages – honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, acceptance – ha ha ha. This is something I can relate to firsthand having traveled abroad extensively on my own!
The romantic concept of living in a foreign country is often deceptive. Jemma does a masterful job of telling her (or someone’s) story of alienation as a foreigner in Japan – an unfamiliar country that in the end, was not for her.
“One’s travels can be rife with anxiety, loneliness, culture shock, and the depression that inevitably comes with isolation.”
Using a series of four “beautifully drawn images displayed on cardboard story panels” Jemma meticulously connects with her audience, drawing them in and leaving them hanging on her every word and description! She adds humor to her stories, even though some of the subjects she discusses aren’t funny.
A multi-talented artist trained in fine art and drama, Kahn created many of the kamishibai panels she uses. Her talented award-winning crew are remarkable:
- Writers – Jemma Kahn and Tertius Kapp
- Director – Jane Taylor
- Sound Design – Charl Johan Lingenfelder
- Lighting Design – Themba Stewart
- Costume Design – Ella Buter
In Bocca al Lupo (into the mouth of the wolf in Italian) follows two of Kahn’s other popular kamishibai shows:
The Epicene Butcher – described as stories that “seduce the sinless and astonish the immoral” toured internationally and was performed 400 times.
Jemma Kahn has “captivated audiences from Cape Town to Edinburgh to Amsterdam with her unique take on the 12th century Japanese art form Kamishibai”.
The phrase “in bocca al lupo” is an Italian idiom used in opera and theatre to wish a performer good luck before a performance. The standard response is “crepi il lupo” or, more commonly, simply “crepi” (may the wolf die). The Italian expression is similar to the English actor’s idiom “break a leg, reflecting a theatrical superstition in which wishing a person ‘good luck’ before a performance is considered bad luck”.
There are several theories on how the Italian expression originated. For this show, “the phrase illustrates the leap of faith Jemma took to create her third kamishibai play”.
“The play follows Kahn on her journey to Japan and then Ireland, as she regales her audience with all the things we fail to mention when asked about our travels to another country.”
“Kintsugi is the Japanese art of restoring broken ceramics using lacquer and gold dust to repair cracks, emphasizing and assigning value to the site of repair. In Bocca Al Lupo has a similar effect. Kahn, co-writer Tertius Kapp, and director Jane Taylor expertly curate her story by selecting the cracks as the focal points which form the narrative.”
Although I often find memoirs boring, if In Bocca al Lupo really was one, it was a delightful, thoroughly enjoyed, and well-performer story – a must see in Cape Town!