Jemma Kahn brings seven brilliant short stories written and illustrated by various South African writers and told through the Japanese medium Kamishibai (paper theatre) to a triumphant London premier at Riverside Studios.

Credit: Robbie Kirsner

I’m not sure why it’s called We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants, but I didn’t dwell long on this during the show because I was so mesmerized by Kahn’s fantastic storytelling abilities. The stage is set like a living room with the box paper theatre in the middle. Though only one person is on stage, this show is actually a collaboration between multiple writers and illustrators, who Kahn ensures receives their credit.

Beginning the show with a strip tease, Kahn establishes her personality, allure, tone, and comedic timing before even speaking a word. She tells the stories through words, expressions, movement, and costume additions (or removals). She had me in the palm of her hand and looked at the slides as if she too couldn’t wait to see what came next. What makes this a show and not just a reading of seven stories is Kahn’s exquisite performance and her connection with the audience, speaking to it directly and breaking the fourth wall in multiple aspects, e.g. turning on the lights, asking us to clap, telling us the significance of the show, and sharing her journey with us. She seemed genuinely happy to be there, proud of the show, and charmed me into smiling for the entire show.

Credit: Dean Hutton

Each story is reminiscent of a deadly sin and has accompanying illustrations (hence paper theatre) – some with a stock photo-esque feel and some with satirically drawn people to further illustrate the ridiculousness of the story. ‘Spaghetti Whores,’ which had to be my favorite, is extremely climactic. (I won’t give it all away, but it involves lobster bisque and a threesome. By the way, this is a strictly adults-only show.) The one story that does not have much of a climax is ‘Pride,’ a story about a family breakup due to their daughter’s sexuality and reunion due to her forgiving her father when he loses his job. In a time where the queer experience is explored and talked about now more than ever, this story feels slightly dated and falls flat. There is plenty of material to work with nowadays, and I wish this story could be reopened and have more personal and intricate feelings woven into it.

Credit: Dean Hutton

We Didn’t Come to Hell for the Croissants is a night you won’t want to miss for the entertaining stories and Kahn’s enthralling performance. It’s on at Riverside Studios until the 4th of February.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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