Jo Randerson's Skazzle Dazzle

BATS Theatre, Wellington

07/03/2006 - 11/03/2006

Production Details

Created and performed by Jo Randerson

By popular demand, Jo Randerson re-presents her spectacular solo show (nominated for the Billy T comedy award). ‘Skazzle-Dazzle’ is an old Danish performance tradition (Skasle-dasle) of non-stop variety-style theatre-comedy featuring stand-up, song, dance, puppetry and wig work.

Theatre , Stand-up comedy , Puppetry , Solo , Music , Comedy , Dance-theatre ,

55 min

Skazzle Dazzle baffles

Review by John Smythe 09th Mar 2006

Driving home from Cannons Creek the other night (from Battalion, reviewed 9/3), I catch the end of a radio talk on National Radio. A woman is pondering the interconnectedness of the universe; the predictability of the patterns it forms according to the laws of physics. I recognise the voice: Jo Randerson. I wait for the gag, the crack that reveals it’s all a joke. But no, she’s being serious here, and formidably intelligent. I find out later the talk is called Are Angels OK and it’s Part 1 of Everything We Know, an RNZ series arising from a collaboration between eminent New Zealand writers and physicists (find it on ).

In confronting difference, she speaks of the ways of acceptance versus judgement and rejection. But if everything is interconnected, she asks, if science indicates that wars and murders are a natural phenomena, does this mean we should accept them as a part of our world? And if everything is inevitable, where does the individual stand? It’s the same dilemma of human existence that preoccupied the Ancient Greeks and has informed philosophical enquiry and the formation of all religions since.

As Randerson put is, it is Daoism (the acceptance of everything) versus Christianity (the quest to do right) in a sort of yin-yang balance. She goes on to liken an artist to the planet Pluto, with its eccentric orbit and multiple moons, that is subject to alternating gravitational pulls. And she concludes that one day God’s work will be done when all the interconnected but incomplete parts miraculously come together to make a completed whole. Or words to that effect.

The very next night I see her in Jo Randerson’s Skazzle Dazzle at Bats, a less frazzled version of the show she premiered at last year’s International Comedy Festival. Naturally I come to it with a renewed respect for the intellect behind her somewhat shambolic comedic persona.

"An ancient alien abandons her prodigy on planet earth as an experiment …" the flyer tells us. A spectacular opening sequence evokes the extra-terrestrial visitation and three large carved eggs are left behind. (Was it a misprint on the flyer; did she mean prodigy or progeny?) One hatches a hugely hairy Gonk-like creature that tries to dance, hurts its knee, panics, pulls various emergency chords to no avail (apparently useless things drop from above) and attempts to climb back into its shell. But a stage manager takes it away.

In retrospect, assuming there was more to what followed than met the eye, I conclude that the various transformations that ensue represent the progeny’s attempts to prove itself a prodigy. And this is a device whereby Randerson exposes the alien, or alienating, tendencies with which we litter (and threaten to obliterate?) our world.

First, a red-haired would-be country music singer whose guitar falls to pieces. She covers with tame jokes about the deaf, blind and Asian, then tries crutch-aided dancing until the wounded knee leaves her caste on the ground. Next, an army guy in camouflage fatigues who tries to ingratiate himself with even worse jokes in his attempts to get us to sign up. He consistently mispronounces words and shows that his only answer to what he doesn’t understand is to shoot it: "Douche! Douche!" His form of ignorance cleansing?

Friendless American Carley Carley exemplifies the Nike "just do it!" spirit by going it alone to put on "a show". Despite proving a totally talent-free zone, and using self-affirmation to protect herself from the slings and arrows of outraged judgement, she ends up marginalised, very alone, literally up against the back wall. But still, stripped of her pointy shoes, multi-coloured wig and red fishnet frock, she persists with trying to make a show. Finally candy is her only solace.

Next, a black-cassocked Preacher starts to address the big issues, like our indifference to why, when we all want love, peace and eternal happiness, we fill the world with greed, hypocrisy and megalomania. Then he/she/it snaps out of it: "Why am I doing this? Too serious. Too tragic." And so to the final transformation, into a yellow-jacketed, moustachioed, beer-clutching, stand-up (as in "massive boner") comedian called Wacky Chucky.

With the help of an emaciated chicken puppet (a battery hen that supplies his fast-food sponsor), he charts his self-inflicted path through alcohol dependency, insomnia and abject loneliness towards Imminent Death: "I’m dying here". The alien space craft returns, Alien Momma reclaims her progeny/prodigy, now present only in shrunken effigy, and retreats, dejected and sobbing, as a heavenly choir sings the Amen and the two other eggs glow … Will they bring more of the same or new possibilities?

I can’t say that Jo Randerson’s Skazzle Dazzle grips me in the present moments of its performance, mainly because it seems one-dimensional at the time. In pondering it afterwards I do see how it tracks the degradation of the human spirit through facile entertainment, ignorance-fuelled war and misguided faith. Fair enough. But it’s not what I’d call inspiring because I’m not asked to wrestle with anything in the moment. I feel no identification or empathy. I just get to sit in judgement.

What I can say is that I remain baffled that an intellect and creative spirit as formidable as Jo Randerson’s remains stuck at this – dare I say it? – rather adolescent level of social commentary. I challenge her to get over it and on with something that challenges us to engage more productively with the world she worries so much about.


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