In Games People Play, by Eric Berne, the author postulates on the negative behaviours associated with the three ego states in which we interact, the Parent, the Adult, and the Child. The emergence of these states, which are developed over a lifetime and unconsciously adopted, are not always the ones you’d expect to arise in any given circumstance. Romantic relationships, friendships, and even colleague dynamics, are often susceptible to the infantilising of one party or the other as we play out our roles as Parents and Children – as much as we’d like to think we’re all Adults. I mention this not as psycho-analysis of husband-and-wife Thomas LaHood and Jo Randerson’s marriage, or of their working relationship as two of New Zealand’s most radical and hilarious theatre makers, but in regards to my recognition of my own Child in the misplaced anger and crippled emotional expression of LaHood’s character.
Soft ‘n’ Hard is the inevitable happening between two practitioners who share not only their practice, but also their home lives. While each working on a solo show, and acting as unofficial dramaturg on the other, they came to the conclusion that both their thematic territory and theatrical languages were complementary. Randerson was investigating how women have to hold themselves to accommodate others, while LaHood was exploring men’s relationship with emotional labour. The result is a hilarious hour of gender-role exploration, from internal desires to external expectations, by two of New Zealand’s top clowns.
Randerson mentions that after a showing of their solo works, “some of the male responders present felt they couldn’t comment on my show, that it wasn’t their place, that it ‘wasn’t about them’.” Ironically, by intertwining the content of their individual works, the final message seems to be that men should simply shut up. And we should. In certain circumstances. Women continue to fight tooth and nail for spaces and platforms with which to use their voice, and the wave of feminist theatre works in New Zealand over the past few years has been a welcome shift in our theatrical landscape. However, in this particular instance, it feels Randerson’s platform has come at the cost of LaHood’s. We spend a significant amount more time with the former, which is no complaint thanks to her ability to hold an audience with nothing more than a sigh, but once the turning point, which feels forced, hits, and the dialogue begins, LaHood becomes little more than a device to serve Randerson’s story. This is fine if it’s indeed the intent of the show, but it comes at the cost of losing the intent LaHood may have had in his own.
Such content is never easy to navigate, for either audience or performer. Fortunately, Randerson and LaHood present images, objects, bodies, and sounds that are not only both incredibly vivid and evocative, but also free of semiotic confusion, allowing the audience to project themselves into the scenes. It is the epitome of complexity through simplicity. This is heavily supported by Owen McCarthy and Poppy Serano’s pastel-coloured design – an innocent façade that hides the set’s theatrical magic. Sound design by Waylon Edwards along with love ballads through the decades complete the spectacle, as director Isobel Mackinnon orchestrates Randerson and LaHood through the narrative with just the right amount of push and pull to excite, fulfil, and surprise.
As disruptors, Randerson and LaHood are no doubt open to the discussions their works provoke, and in response to art, criticism is simply the first word, not the last. Had this review been written immediately after viewing the show, you would be reading a Child’s words – you most likely still are, to a degree. But upon further reflection, hopefully as the rational Adult, the discomfort which the show evoked can be seen as a sign of the work that both men and women must continue to do in order to develop healthier and happier relationships with not only one another, but also themselves. While the show may not have explored the greater effects of men’s relationship with emotional labour, it does offer a starting point for the conversation. I just wish we had more time.