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Deliciously dark tales of the unexpected.

Review: WE DIDN'T COME TO HELL FOR THE CROISSANTS, Riverside Studios The rather accomplished burlesque that kicks off this Jemma Kahn's one-woman show apparently gives away nothing for what is to follow. It is only in hindsight that one realises that there was more than a morsel of a clue there: the South African performance artist and her seven kamishibai stories both start off appearing quite ordinary before revealing remarkable levels of delightfully sordid behaviour.

She tells us that "I've been doing this show for a long time and it seems to be more pertinent the worse the world gets" and there may be some truth in there. We Didn't Come To Hell For The Croissants is the middle part of her kamishibai trilogy using around the 12th century storytelling technique which found new life on the streets of Tokyo in the 1930s.

The original stories presented in this show were written by Kahn's compatriots, all of whom have gone on to win a Pulitzer. Each tale here takes inspiration from one of the Seven Sins and most are rolled out via a wooden box-like story board containing a series of painted or printed images. Painted in a variety of styles, the images are like the work of a debauched Charles Addams possessed by the anarchic spirit of Spike Milligan, depicting as they do a wealth of macabre acts with more than a pinch of dark humour.

Cycling through the hundreds of pictures, she brings to life a plethora of fascinating characters. The slothful Erasmas Blank is an over-privileged youth sauntering his way through life on minimum effort until his one bright idea - automating deliveries in a restaurant where the food is shaped like sport stars - brings him fulsome praise, a full belly and an early death. "Lady Fiona's Song" introduces us to a cat that inherits her owner's wealth before suffering a fatal case of avarice.

If food-related sex and violence aren't your thing, you may want to look away during Kahn's take on The Beatles' "Maxwell's Silver Hammer "and the closing story "Spaghetti Of The Whores". The latter depicts a ménage à trois which descends into a commendable orgy of filth and depravity. On a more personal level, "Pride" is a moving silent story using just a series of pictures to tell about a woman coming out to less than understanding parents.

With We Didn't Come To Hell For The Croissants, Kahn makes her London debut and it is long overdue. She has a lively physicality which invigorates every element of her narrative cabaret. We hang on her words like a hat on a hook and, frankly, we could have been there a while longer than the 70-minute running time. Here's hoping the rest of the trilogy makes its way to the UK sometime soon.

We Didn't Come To Hell For Croissants continues at Riverside Studios until 4 February.

Photo Credit: Dean Hutton

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