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Photo © Penny Pepper

Photo © Penny Pepper

Lost in Spaces

Hastings-based Penny Pepper – performer, singer and political activist on behalf of disabled people – has recently aired her latest show, Lost in Spaces. Witty, gritty and subversive, the performance charts her life to date. Based on the journals she has kept so meticulously since childhood, the spoken word blends seamlessly with poetry and music, while photos provide a visual narrative. Cathy Simpson was lucky enough to attend the première at the Soho Theatre, London.

The first space is her childhood, marked by a spectacular countdown like those to the moon landings which provided so much of the backdrop during the 1960s. The pictures reveal an early childhood filled with love and sunshine – to be shattered by the untimely death of her beloved father. He is commemorated in the poignant Hymn to Daddy; though she describes the tragic event as an ‘emotional hand grenade’, to me the love she carries within shines forth in everything about her. It’s there all the way from her cheeky smile and sensual demeanour, to the depth of conviction in her political campaigning.

Her poetry is funny, sexy and not afraid to address profoundly personal experience and taboo subjects. In this performance she was not alone on the stage, however. Joanne Cox’s soulful cello playing underlined the spoken word and gave it depth, while signer, Jeni Draper, contributed an interpretation so much in tune with Penny that it crossed over into physical theatre at times. It was a performance in its own right, and showed the same boldness; this was particularly intriguing during seminal pieces like Girls Wank Too.

Photo © Penny Pepper

Photo © Penny Pepper

Penny’s time as a lovely young punk musician, Kata Kolbert, was also documented in photos. She related stories of adolescent angst which many of us would identify with, but from her own personal perspective. The soulful vulnerability is there in her delicate, doll-like features and the haunting melody of her album Spiral Sky. This contrasts with the bitingly sarcastic verse to Margaret Thatcher: Handbagged.

The struggles faced continually by disabled people are highlighted in Penny’s championing of the Independent Living Fund, without which she would not have been able to achieve her successes. While much of her performance featured a backward look, it is also very much involved the present and future, and the audience participation included a postcard to be sent to the House of Commons, asking that the ILF should be kept and re-opened to new applicants.

The performance concluded with Cripplegate Town – where Suzi Quatro’s Devilgate Drive was subverted thus:

A life style choice? It’s never one: wake up and see the fact.
Beware the oily rhetoric of our leaders’ foul attack.
Humanity is broad and wide, its patterns vast and great;
We are no bland homogeny – accept and celebrate.
Come to Cripplegate, come to Cripplegate Town.

The audience participation was nicely symbolic, from disabled and non-disabled alike.

This performance is a profoundly moving emotional roller-coaster, its embrace at once intensely personal, and totally universal. I highly recommend it!

Hopefully Lost in Spaces will go on tour in the future; in the meantime, though, you can find out more about Penny’s musical career here; the importance of ILF here, and Penny’s blog here.

Written and performed by: Penny Pepper

Directed by: Bethany Pitts
Script Consultant: John O’Donoghue
Accompanist/Composition: Joanne Cox

BSL provided by Jeni Draper

Posted 10:07 Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014 In: Hastings People

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