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Fringefeed | 30 Jan 2020

Adult Story Time Part 1. ‘The Epicene Butcher’

‘The Epicene Butcher’ is the first act in Jemma Khan’s anthology series, using kamishibai (paper-play) to tell twisted stories.

Kamishibai storytellers show a series of still pictures in a box resembling an old-fashioned TV set, accompanied by narration and/or music (when TV arrived in Japan, it became known as ‘electric kamishibai’).

It’s an inexpensive artform, and this is reflected in the eccentric and economical set design incorporating maneki-neko, donkeys, dinosaurs, milk-crates and recycled cartons.

Khan narrates most of the stories, assisted by the mute Chalkboy, with the exception of the wordless Fukushima, a shattering depiction of the devastated city in a style reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains.

The show opens with the story of a peasant who has walked a hundred miles to ask a Zen master the meaning of life – but unfortunately, arrives just before lunchtime. The master’s reply is part zen koan, part Leonard Cohen.

The next story begins with a man reading pornographic manga, with illustrations featuring Japanese censorship, accompanied by Khan’s hilarious performance as an escort.

‘The Epicene Butcher’, set in a mythical ancient Japan, is the night’s most gruesome story, though only a few of the kamishibai illustrations are particularly graphic.

When the Emperor decides that the only delicacy he hasn’t tried is human flesh, he sends his butcher out in search of human meat good enough to suit the Emperor’s refined palate.

The Dreamcatcher Project recounts the surreal dreams of four cats, and the weirdness is enhanced by Khan’s hilarious performance as a German scientist.

After the stunning Fukushima, Khan closes with Mario and the existential angst of being an obsessive video game character responsible for the extinction of most lifeforms on his island.

It’s dark, strange, somewhat nihilistic and often incredibly funny – Kwaidan meets Allegro Non Troppo, done live – and I’m really looking forward to seeing Khan’s other two shows.

About the Author

Stephen Dedman

Stephen Dedman is the author of five novels and more than 120 short stories published and reprinted and in an eclectic variety of anthologies and magazines and languages. He’s worked as a bookseller, actor, museum exhibit and experimental subject, and taught creative writing at UWA and the Forensic Science Centre.

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Reviewed by SARAH VIDLER 2020