Radical Softness Round up
David Hoyle at The Marlborough
David Hoyle invited us into a space, where not only were we witness to his raw emotion, but we were allowed to express our own frustrations and upsets. While David took the time to make sure everyone their was comfortable and happy in themselves before beginning, he was clear about his emotional state that day from the get-go, asking “Who’s angry? I’m angry”.
While many people may consider anger as a negative emotion that should be avoided, Hoyle shows himself to occupy a space between enragement and calmness, sometimes alternating between the two. In doing so Hoyle demonstrates the humanness of anger, and being unapologetic and passionate is something to be celebrated. Hoyle is clear, that his anger, upset and vulnerability stems from a place of love. Hoyle’s anger about the military, for example, a topic that he focussed on on multiple occasions throughout the evening, came from love. His stance on military bases and global deaths, as he cried “Not in my name!”. In doing so, David took his emotional vulnerability and forged it into a political weapon, creating a brilliantly captivating performance of radical softness.
At a midpoint in the show, David began to obtain some key words from the audience, many of which he had already established a rapport with, allowing for a very relaxed, no-pressure environment for them to share their thoughts. The words showed a snapshot of the mindsets of members of the audience, and included “Science, Love, Fire, Peace, Fuck, Hope”, which like Hoyles overall performance, alternated between violence and hope.
Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the show, however, was its end. Hoyle closed the show by creating a beautiful, colourful portrait of an audience member which he painted over the audiences words. The paint ran into each other, the colours mixed and all the anger felt by the audience (‘Fuck’) mixed with their optimism (‘Hope’) to create something beautiful and celebratory. You couldn’t help leaving the show with a sense of empowerment and invincibility.
Willy Hudson runs through the audience, naked apart from a towel. He gets to the stage and asks for help, audience members passing him his pants, shirt, trousers or holding his phone, as he repeatedly checks in with them on whether they have received the text they are waiting for. A text from someone who he went on a date with the previous night, in which he became highly sexually anxious over the labels ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ and which one he fell under
Deliberately haphazard, busy and full of energy, the charmingly witty Willy Hudson brought his incredibly heartwarming show Bottom to The Marlborough to begin our Radical Softness season. Willy interrogates the notion of being a ‘top’ or a ‘bottom’ in a homosexual relationship or sexual encounter. Occupying a more nuanced area in between, Hudson invites those unfamiliar to this stereotype to see the anxiety and confusion surrounding it, and provides a relatable story for those who have.
Hudson approaches this often unspoken of topic in a very light hearted, humorous and enjoyable style. Hudson employed the help of the bottom half of a mannequin for assistance throughout the evening, This sense of fun was amplified through Willy’s various interjections. Him singing his tinder conversations whilst playing the pink ukulele was a hilarious insight into the modern dating world. Another highlight was Hudson’s interactions with his Beyonce poster, in which he asked her for answers and advice as if she were a magic 8 ball, the perfect responses being chosen out of a catalogue of her lyrics and interviews.
Bottom is fearless in its honesty, no detail is spared from the audience, yet in Willys delivery, the audience is not made to feel uncomfortable, but rather that we are trusted friends let into a secret. Beautifully sex positive, you can’t help leave this performance feeling heartwarmed, self assured and less alone.
Louisa Robbin brought her beautifully intimate and incredibly raw solo work to care to The Marlborough as part of our Radical Softness season. Robbin created a safe and comfortable space which still successfully managed to challenge social stigmas surrounding mental health, and in turn, ‘self care’. A commodity which can lose its meaning and manifest as a veil of destruction rather than the actions we need to take to truly take care of ourselves.
Robbin was already present in the space, a long black mat on the floor equipped with ingredients to make body butter, when the audience entered. This felt as though Robbin was inviting us to enter into the world of her self care rituals. Watching her create body butter, hearing the sounds of the water being poured and smelling the fragrance of the product was a highly sensory experience, and a very soothing, relaxing one too. This, however, starkly contrasted Louisa’s voiceover and accompanying soundscape, which represented the self harm and self deprecation she encounters on the path to self care.
This soundscape was powerful, raw and honest – sometimes painfully so, making it a challenging listen. That, however, was what made the piece so strong. Quotes such as the list of “things I would do if I were well”, for example, were incredibly indicative of how debilitating mental illness can be, only making the finished products of both the body butter and the performance more glorious. Perhaps the most poignant moment here, however was when the soundscape stopped and Louisa spoke directly to the audience about how performing this show made her feel. Whilst the ritual of making the body butter allowed her to reveal her daily struggles to the audience, this moment allowed for her to address directly the correlation between mental health and ‘performing’ mental health, shattering any belief some audience members may have clung on to that this was entirely performative.
The piece itself was brief, just over half an hour long. Despite the timing this piece was clearly one of endurance for Robbin to perform, and its length and ephemerality allowed the piece to say exactly what it needed to say effectively, without unnecessarily making Robbin undergo listening to more of her devaluating thoughts. Instead, Robbin invites us all to joining the ‘apology party’ in which we apologise to ourselves, forgive ourselves, make goals for ourselves and, ultimately, dance. This was an entirely optional part of the show, giving everyone present the agency to only do what they are comfortable with doing and allowed those who wished to dance the opportunity for a release of built up emotions sparked from the performance and turned them into something fun and beautiful. The dance party was signified by her finishing her own list of apologies and goals, walking under a balloon filled with gold glitter and popping it. With a big bang her body, already covered in butter, now was reborn into a glittering ball of light. A beautiful image to represent radical softness – not just turning your vulnerability into a weapon, but into a thing of wonder.
“Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s The End of the World
Cause you don’t love me anymore”
Skeeter Davis’s End of the World, a ballad of loneliness and heartbreak, plays out into the auditorium as FK Alexander sits at a table covered in flowers and a guillotine.
As the track begins, Alexander picks up a flower at a time, places it in the guillotine, slams the knife down and chops off the bud. While the lyrics are incredibly sad, there’s something about it’s country pop genre which doesn’t immediately lend itself to the violent imagery FK provides. Accompanied by FK’s white dress, a symbol of purity and innocence, the visual of decapitating flowers is heightened by its stark contrasts. This is violence.
This continues until the song finishes, however returns later in the show going at about half the speed, until all the flowers are gone. By the second time this happens it feels as though the chopping is a part of the song, a rhythm that needed to be present you just never realised it until this point. In its final performance in the evening, however, FK has chopped all the flowers so instead continues to sing along with the distorted vocal track, now playing at an even slower pace, whilst staring at the audience. We are back to how we started the piece, yet all the flowers are now scattered mulch over the floor and FK remains just heartbroken as she started.
As the song ended the first and second time, FK stood up, put on some red heels and dragged and stomped her feet along a long piece of metal. This created its own rhythm, which along with an accompanying drummer and projected titles such as ‘love, loveless, lovelessness’ formed her own anti-love music piece which beautifully complemented Skeeter Davis and the flower cutting. By using her body to aggressively stomp in red heels, Alexander turned these innate symbols of innate femininity into a weapon, a source for violence to be used against those who have hurt her and love as a whole.
What is successful about the piece is that it doesn’t feel like violence for violence’s sake. It successfully lives up to its description of an ‘anti-love tribute’, by which it shows the pain and vulnerability that can stem from love and the loss of it. It seeks to acknowledge and take ownership of that pain, crafting it into a weapon – a fitting end to our radical softness season.
Written by Eleanor Holland
Eleanor is currently interning at The Marlborough as part of her Drama, Theatre and Performance degree at University of Sussex