SOFT N HARD
13/02/2018 - 17/02/2018
03/05/2018 - 04/05/2018
22/08/2017 - 26/08/2017
Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood
In the preposterous world of Soft N Hard, the curtains are so beautiful you can get lost in them, taking a shower is so deep you need a wetsuit, and the view in the mirror is simply breathtaking.
Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood are the creative team behind Barbarian Productions and real life wife ‘n’ husband. Man ‘n’ woman. Clown ‘n’ genius. Together they run their theatre business, create their art, and raise their two children. Their lives are inextricably intertwined.
A year or so ago Jo was working on a solo performance about how women have to hold themselves to accommodate others, and Thomas was working on a solo performance about how men hardly have to do anything at all. So inevitably, they decided they should explore both sides live on stage. What could possibly go wrong?
Thomas and Jo have approached the fraught territory of gender posturing with characteristically outrageous humour and courageous self-expression. Soft N Hard is visually extravagant, hugely fun, and completely absurd.
BATS Theatre The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Terrace, Wellington
Tuesday 22nd – Saturday 26th August 2017
In recent years Barbarian Productions has become known for a radically progressive approach to theatre: Taking over the entire back end of the State Opera House (Grand Opening, 2015), filling the Wellington Cathedral with songs of inter-generational conflict (Sing It To My Face, 2014), and dishing out free haircuts in exchange for political discussion (Political Cuts, 2014). In 2016 they received the Wellington Theatre Awards Jury Prize for their outstanding overall contribution to Wellington Theatre.
BATS Theatre The Heyday Dome (Return Season)
13 – 17 Februrary 2018
SOUTHLAND ARTS FESTIVAL 2018
Repertory House, Invercargill
Thu 3 May, Fri 4 May 2018, 7:30pm
Book: TicketDirect (service fees apply) $35/30/20
Theatre , Clown ,
“I see myself ... my friends ... my parents ... my marriage”
Review by Sarah McCarthy 04th May 2018
Described by their son as the story of “two monsters who marry and turn into people who have lots of fights”, real-life couple Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood’s Soft ’n’ Hard could be the story of my marriage. Of your marriage. Of any marriage.
A modest audience has gathered for the first night of the Barbarian Production two-night run at Invercargill’s Repertory Theatre, part of the Southland Arts Festival.
The show begins and it’s … weird. I knew it would be weird, I’m into weird, but it is weird. I worry what the audience will do. Will they get it? I hate being the only person laughing.
Weirdness gives way to hilarity and we are joyously along for the ride. Randerson and LaHood are so fully committed to the sublimely ridiculous and their – frankly, weird – props, that we have no choice but to also commit and to see what happens next. Which, weirdly, reminds me of my wedding day.
Gender, gender roles, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man, marriage, expectation, every living room I’ve ever been in – all these are skewered, dissected, held up to the light by Randerson and LaHood. Both subtle and broad, largely silent in the first half of the piece yet immediately accessible and recognisable, there is joy and heartbreak, there is anger and there is bitter disappointment. I see myself, I see my friends, I see my parents, I see my marriage.
In removing traditional narrative, Randerson and LaHood, under the steady hand of director Isobel MacKinnon, manage to say more about the state of men and women today than anything I’ve read or seen. There are broad strokes here, yes, but it’s painstakingly broad. Every movement, every gesture, is both thought out and thoughtful. This is a world of chaos where there are no accidents.
The set, at first seeming so simple, is masterfully designed – claustrophobic, frustrating, busy and yet so empty.
Best, for me, is when the walls come down in every sense and I swear I hear my words coming out of their mouths. The pair shines even brighter, here. Assumptions we’ve made about the characters become crystallised: it’s a life and a marriage and a partnership made flesh.
When the show is over – it’s an hour long and perfectly so – people are chatting furiously as they leave. An older couple, friends of mine, say they saw the early days of their marriage reflected on the stage. I wish, and not for the first time, that I’d brought my husband along with me, because I want to talk to him about how the show has made me feel and hear what he thinks. And that is what theatre should do, at every turn; it should make you want to talk about what you’ve seen, it should stir the depths.
This is high-concept, yet aimed at everyone. It is, simply, stunning.
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Deceptively simple, elegant, detailed and heady
Review by Patrick Davies 24th Aug 2017
Barbarian Productions are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to thoughtful, entertaining and theatrical theatre. Yes, you read that right. While many productions could easily fit onto a screen, the world that Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood create in Soft N Hard, and the performance itself, can only be experienced live, in the moment. This is a deceptively clever and devilishly beguiling work.
Poppy Serano’s set is two walls of banana-yellow curtains placed like an arrowhead with a slight angle topped with 1970s wallpaper forming a kind of pelmet on the wall behind the curtains. The lighting (Owen McCarthy) is lush and soft. By the time I enter, strains of ‘You’re so Vain’ by Carly Simon (“I bet you think this song is about you, don’t you …?”) is playing overhead. With the opening night crowd very aware of La Hood and Randerson’s reputation there is the heady sense we’re about to really enjoy ourselves – and we will.
SPOILER ALERTS FROM THIS POINT IN
This production sets out to “wrestle with the construction and performance of gender”. And by construction they mean from the beginning. Movement from behind the curtains eventually gives birth to hoop of material that silkily slithers and slides around its environment. A beige amoeba that delights us as it somehow realises its own form, investigating bumps and angles and becoming self-aware.
Foreshadowed by a machined noise this circular form is joined by what I can only describe as a ‘liquorice man’. Black and tubular, it advances through the yellow curtains, to hoots from the audience, to join in this exploratory dance. They find each other and cling – and so we have the primordial ooze setting up how things may go on for time immemorial.
From with these forms emerge Her and Him. Her hooped costume becomes her dress and gifted with shoes we land somewhere in the 40s and 50s. Recently deflated by Her, Him reveals a black wetsuit, at times revealing His hirsute-ness like a 70s Burt Reynolds pull out from Playgirl. The odd English word escapes their lips “oops”, “sorry”, “no” as they negotiate themselves relative to each other.
Based in clown and cliché, Randerson and La Hood keep us entertained (no 4th wall here) while highlighting gender norms of those times. Her gets a headscarf which she is about to put on like a 50s housewife but then laughs at us for thinking she’ll allow that kind of cliché. She then ties it around her neck instead, owning one cliché while mocking another. He will episodically hear the boys from over the wall chanting “Do it, Do it, Do it” and go join them (which brings applause from these voices). Her meanwhile will attempt to join in only to find that where he can easily go, when Her opens the curtains the actual and metaphorical wall is back in place. Her is kept within the home. Slowly Her begins to assert her Herness by deciding to leave the confines of the room and Him alone.
As the performance continues more and more words are introduced, which can be taken for time passing but also the development of communication between Her and Him. As the tensions between them rise, suddenly “Jo” and “Thomas” appear, directly communicating with each other. Now we are not watching nameless architypes but Thomas LaHood and Jo Randerson onstage, or at least their public personas.
During this last third of the work, the set begins to deteriorate: pieces fall off, curtains come down and we get to see what is literally behind the façade. How do two people ‘be’ with each other when no-one else is looking? How do two creative people bring up kids? What are the negotiations that go on, not ‘with couples’ but with this specific couple, right here in front of us?
This is a very daring and spectacular turn. Wigs and codified costume are off, but this is also not couples therapy. Randerson and LaHood keep such a tight and light touch that we never fear for their feelings, but are gifted with a generosity of artists who see Art and Life as the same thing.
The mirror on the wall that, as a metaphor, has provided Her with her looks and Him with his desires, is now turned on the artists themselves. How are we to discuss these matters in the general? We don’t, we must confront these issues of gender, not to come to a decision but to see them as a fluid and ongoing discussion about particular people in a particular time and place.
O brave new world that has such Artists in ’t!
LaHood and Randerson are a real-life couple which, of course, adds another dimension to their performances – and which they play upon. Both are gifted comedians in their own right and together they work so seamlessly that each moment seems both planned and spontaneous.
The script is full of double meanings and postmodern references. When Her finally manages to leave the confines of the room, all that is left behind, Cinderella like, is her shoe. Mansplaining, male privilege, feminism, feminist ally all come under the microscope but are presented as both narrative and discussion in such ways to illuminate. Her gets to join a group of other women under a sheet; Him can only wallow under the sheet of male privilege from which he states – “there’s no way out”, hilariously illustrating the dichotomy.
McCarthy’s lights make the most of the Serano’s onstage palate – during the ‘amoeba stage’ the neon aspects of intelli-lights highlight vibrant yellows and oranges, giving an other-worldly tone; the 40s/50s era has a distinct romance to it which evolves to a direct but not harsh light in the later stages as we reveal Thomas and Jo getting to the core of the discussion. From colour to reality; from wordless form to wordy discussion.
The costumes (again Poppy Serano) are a delight, like the set allowing for transformation – the birthing of Her and Him from their primordial state being my favourite – and again fooling formlessness to actuality by the end of the production.
Waylon Edward’s sound, from the evolutionary stage, through the offstage male pack to the use of songs (‘Release Me’, ‘Lady In Red’ etc.) are perfectly placed to highlight or counterpoint.
This deceptively simple, elegant, detailed and heady production can only come from rigour and boldness in the rehearsal room under the direction of Isobel McKinnon. Clearly McKinnon has created a playful investigative process which allows all the component artists to come together in a seamless way. When you can’t see the direction then you know it’s brilliant.
My only quibble is that it is such a short season.* This is an incredibly good production that I hope will return.
*[Booked out except for a Saturday 2pm matinee, just added.]
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer