Barbarian Productions’ Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood are partners in theatre and life. And this week they are back at Bats Theatre in Wellington. It’s been a fast few months since Soft ‘n’ Hard’s first sold out season at the end of 2017. Many missed out and demanded the show’s return.
Notoriously hard working and keenly perceptive, these commentators of society’s deepest binding threads, take us on a journey of the ubiquitous and fraught western heterosexual relationship.
Drawing on their many astute observations and no doubt their own relationship, Randerson and LaHood carefully tease out the various iterations of gendered themes within such relationships.
When I first saw the show in 2017, I was amazed (and thankful) at the way that Soft ‘n’ Hard managed to put what are often indescribable and difficult to exemplify experiences – into plain, relatable and hilarious scenarios on stage.
The set and production are minimalist, the music impeccable. They are universal to the subject matter. Set against a backdrop of bold glamorous yellow, the ‘fabric of society’, we journey from amoeba like states to courtship and long term relationship status. High heel shoes, an arm chair and a handful of other props orientate us. Scenes from the 1950s household to the modern day are explored from both perspectives. The body language and discourse of emotional and mental labour are constantly present and build to explosion.
The Man literally disappears during the show, many many times. Stuck on stage and frustrated, we are privy to the exasperated exhalations of the Woman, driven to the edge, who must not get angry or break the mould. This is her time to speak though. Is it her space. And she is heard.
At times the crowd is visibly tense, perhaps uncomfortable with how familiar the conversations and arguments are to their own lives. Moments when those around me literally held their breath, before breaking into tears of laughter, finally able to see the ridiculousness of the situation. Debates of tone-policing (‘Oh, it’s how I say it is it?!); the Woman desperate to show how mental labour squashes her very existence; the oblivious not-all-men guy, wounded and confused, gazing at himself in the mirror for what could be hours.
For those who identify as hetero/cis, and often times for those who don’t, these characters reflect us. Whether we are in heterosexual relationships or not, we see those expectations between men and women more broadly, filled and resisted on stage. The dynamics so familiar and frequent are opened up, illuminated and left hanging in the air for us to pick up and discuss.
It felt like Randerson and LaHood had reached into the farthest reaches of our conscious and unconscious minds, as though they had been the flies on the wall during every argument, every regretful or hurtful thought, and then wrote them into a script. Uncanny, unnerving and yet altogether affirming.
‘Masculine’ – Him; protective, hard working, wilfully ignorant and absent, toxic, hurt and hurtful, introspective and evolving. ‘Feminine’ – Her; extremely hard working, curtailed, unseen, unheard, frustrated, powerful, groundbreaking and eventually – giving no fucks.
From the heights of politics, to the dirty and sweaty backstages of concerts, our society is now largely accustomed to, if not becoming comfortable with feminism being discussed. It is now almost expected territory to traverse in many situations from workplaces to dinner tables. And what better setting to reflect how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to travel, than in a rollickingly funny theatre show.
Catch them if you can at Bats Theatre:
Fri 16 Feb at 8pm
Sat 17 Feb at 4pm
Sat 17 Feb at 8pm