WE DIDN’T COME TO HELL FOR THE CROISSANTS
written by Nicholas Spagnoletti, Justin Oswald, Tertius Kapp, Jemma Kahn, Rosa Lyster and Lebogang Mogashoa
artwork by Jemma Kahn, Carlos Amato and Rebecca Haysom
directed by Lindiwe Matshikiza
Riverside Studios, London – until 4 February 2023
Any piece of theatre that has Annie Lennox proclaiming “I came away with my mind slightly blown”, or better yet, sports on it’s flyer the quote “brilliant! it got me laid!” from a happy audience member, has got to be worth a look, right? And that’s before one even considers the title: We Didn’t Come To Hell For The Croissants must be one of the most amusing and intriguing show names in living memory, not to mention the longest. As it turns out, this South African, multi-authored one woman riff on the Seven Deadly Sins offers rather more than just a whimsical comic title and a series of outrageous pull quotes.
Cape Town based theatre maker Jemma Kahn, armed only with a kamishibai frame (a sort of Japanese equivalent to a toy theatre, where striking illustrations are slotted through to aid with storytelling), a couple of props, some serious comedy chops and a ton of attitude, rattles through an eccentric compendium of monologues, tales and musical numbers, ranging from the precious to the filthy. Not everything lands equally well, but when this magical artist and this show soar (which they mostly do), this is a biliously funny, sometimes unsettling seventy minutes of sheer theatrical chutzpah.
Kahn is mesmerising: a remarkable, shapeshifting combination of sexy, stern, chummy and borderline terrifying. The relish with which she intones a stunningly well written tale of unbridled lust at an unconventional dinner party, or delivers, in a flawless German accent, an increasingly chilling poetic dissection of a stalking obsession, are masterclasses in audience control, provoking titters of unease and amusement, and just occasionally abject shock. A quirky number about a pampered NYC puss with a trust fund also scores a bullseye.
The highlight for me though was the Rosa Lyster-penned section ‘Enemies and How to Love Them’ which starts as a Ted talk from a smugly successful female entrepreneur that becomes progressively more and more venomous, culminating in the bizarre but hilarious assertion that you’re nobody until somebody truly hates you. Most of the writing throughout the show is sensational: wry and tangy, with an elegance that suddenly becomes upended by an unexpected shot of sheer nastiness.
Trawls through the underbelly of human existence are seldom this life-enhancing. Lindiwe Matshikiza’s staging is ostensibly simple but has a subtle tension and sensuality, a certain seedy glamour, and is exquisitely paced. Kahn is the real deal, a unique stage presence with charisma to spare, and the ability to turn the atmosphere in the room from red hot to icy in the blink of one of her mascara besmudged eyes. Connoisseurs of juicy diva star turns should not miss her. Altogether, this is a rare dark delight. I can’t guarantee it’ll get you laid, but you’ll have a Hell of a good time.