REVIEW: Soft n Hard (Tempo Dance Festival)

Review by Tim George

[Woman v Shrill Man]

The story of a relationship between a man and woman, Soft n Hard is based on movement and song, but to call this Tempo work a dance show feels reductive. Created and performed by Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood (and directed by Isobel MacKinnon), Soft n Hard is about juxtaposition and conflict over assumptions and expectations around gender roles.

The plot, as it is, is pretty straightforward: Randerson and LaHood come together, and slowly they mature from, respectively, a breastlike organ and something resembling a vinyl couch and an inflatable elephant, into adulthood (clothes for her; a wetsuit for him).

Over the course of the hour-long runtime, Randerson follows the traditional arc of falling in love and then recognising that her love is not reciprocated by either respect or sharing of responsibility. Whenever she attempts to rein LeHood in, his offscreen friends lure him away to enjoy the bacchanalian pleasures of his youth.

The set is great – it is a freestanding wall with breakaway entrances and exits covered by curtains that the Husband (LaHood) is able to use to escape matrimony willy nilly while his wife lacks the same freedom of movement: the walls also give him the power of privacy, while Randerson is stuck on-stage, forced to perform the role of woman/wife in front of an audience.

The show is inspired by the real-life couple’s relationship, but thanks to the presentation and the focus on the small details and microaggressions, not to mention the absence of dialogue from most of the runtime, show has a strange sense of universiality.

I was so caught up in how it weirdly echoed certain people I know. While the show is not aiming for kitchen sink realism, the emphasis on a woman trying to articulate her truth while a hairy man in half a wetsuit interrupts her was very familiar (just swap the wetsuit for stubbies and add way more whining).

Soft n Hard is very funny, but its major success is that so much is conveyed about the pair’s personalities and relationship without dialogue. Randerson and LaHood are both clowns, and they can convey so much with a gesture, a glance or a mumbled half-sentence. To pack so much nuance and characterisation into mimeis is an impressive feat.

Not quite dance, not quite narrative, Soft n Hard’s performance art is something quite unique in form, and (sadly) timeless in theme.

Soft ‘n’ Hard is presented by Barbarian Productions and played at Tempo Dance Festival 11 & 12 October. 

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