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A barbarian's right to difference

Renée Newman: Jo Randerson, Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong

Theatre maker Renée Newman lectures at Edith Cowan University's Western Australian Academy for the Performing Arts (WAAPA).

Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong, Jo Randerson Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong, Jo Randerson
photo Thomas LaHood

There is nothing quite like having a piece of theatre defined by its maker as a dose of wasabi. Jo Randerson is Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong. We know from the outset that there is swearing, drinking, aggressive behaviour and occasional attempts at smoking but what we do not know is that the show is actually a strangely gentle call to arms to defend the right for difference, whatever that difference may be.

Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong has been playing in various incarnations for 20 years. A New Zealander with Danish ancestry, Jo Randerson found herself in the old country at a gathering of women theatre makers where she felt rather out of place among the formally precise, serious European theatre folk. She used this displacement to make a work about reclaiming the "uncultured." Back in New Zealand, she found a home for her portrayal of a wonderful punkish multi-accented truth-seeker, “the Barbarian," who has a penchant for shoving her sword into anyone or anything. Randerson played the role herself for five years before letting other women take it on. So it continued for another seven years or so until Randerson heard the call of the Barbarian again and here we find her at the Blue Room Theatre for Summer Nights at Perth Fringe World, providing a rare opportunity to witness a contemporary performance piece with such a long lineage and appreciate that so many women have taken up the challenge of the role before this, fighting on stage to be angry and proud and different.

Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong is essentially a monologue about the search for kin. A rudimentarily drawn family tree of the Bastardos clan has many ancestors making swooping entrances and gruesome exits (including a devastating boating accident that lost an entire line) with countless family members dying in the fight for what they believe in and others ending their own lives in desperate isolation. There is a moment where Randerson reveals that she doesn’t understand the difference between theatre and real life. The longer I’m around neither do I—especially amid the post-truth spectacle of the White House Press Room, trying to determine where performance begins and ends. Which means that Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong has never been more important.

While the Barbarian plays Bach—and provides the best reading of Robert Frost I’ve ever come across—she is both incredibly funny and so alone. To me, this is the point: to be a fighter, a person of ideological action, you are often alone. We see her seeking fellow kindred spirits in the audience and hear of a great lost love, but otherwise she is alone. Until, that is, the closing image of the play in which we are given a glimpse of the glorious hope of another generation of Barbarians in the person of Randerson’s son Geronimo, in a late appearance complete with Bastardos outfit. It is impossible to be the Barbarian or the truth-seeker, or even the Shakespearean fool, and be alone. We need to find our kin. Jo Randerson, I will keep being angry as long as you do.


For more about Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong, see this interview.

Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong, creator, performer Jo Randerson, The Blue Room Theatre, Perth, 7–11 Feb

Theatre maker Renée Newman lectures at Edith Cowan University's Western Australian Academy for the Performing Arts (WAAPA).

RealTime issue #137 Feb-March 2017 pg.

© Renee Newman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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