Dressed to seduce Penny Pepper packs a punch, joined on stage with Jo-anne Cox on mellow cello in the Bellerby Studio at the DAiSY Fest on 4 June. Review by Wendy Young
DAO Editor Colin Hambrook introduced Penny comparing her writing to Angela Carter (her novels having cemented their friendship). That he could finally pay her for a gig was a prime mover for the Disability Arts cause.
And the audience could certainly agree that here was a woman of 'extraordinary versatility' after a raunchy taster of her upcoming 'Lost in Spaces' show, due to be aired in full at the Soho Theatr, London on 8 September.
Aubrey Beardsley on a mild hallucinogenic could well have stretched his style and etched the picture of black and white flowered bouffant Penny who looked every inch the avenging angel, delivering her message with older and newer performance pieces. Ms P was accompanied by Jo-anne Cox's delectable cello eliciting an underbelly that gave the poems extra levels of meaning and expression.
For example The Ballad of Cripplegate, conjured a scene where Frankie Goes to Holyhead to meet Hogarth with Pepper leading a throng of abandoned cripples (a word which she is on a mission to reclaim): "Give me ten pork chops, twelve gallons of ale, Plague will chase us to our death, leap close to hear my tale. We don’t look like the king and queen of this, or any land, But we’re staying and we’re shouting, sat firm to take a stand."
A battle cry for the disaffected, it is an account of the ghettoisation of disabled people and speaks to us in the 21st century amidst austerity measures and threats to the ILF (Independent Living Fund) for which Pepper, a is a staunch campaigner:
"There’s deaf, there’s blind, there’s wailers, the war-hacked with their sticks We gather at old Cripplegate for a morsel by its bricks.Bold Alice had the pox last year, her face can still make trade,Highborn ladies with nosegays, make sport and trot away."
Children's Ward cast a sombre mood with Cox's playful yet distorted nursery rhymes underpinning the sorrowful lines: "this is Major Pen to ground control", Pepper calling out from her hospital bed to her imaginative world of cripples in space because they "weren't on the tele" to a heavily strained cello.
In typical Pepper style, the mood was lifted with Mash Up, a new poem about potatoes and sex: "Tomorrow is sex and drink and fun. There will be more unpeelings done, in hungry corners, smeared wide-lipped, I’m anxious, and I’m always chipped, All wet soft-eyed blubber and squeak, When Alan’s hand runs on my cheek." Mmm tasty!
After that scrumptious morsel it was back to politics with a Journal Entry from 24th April 1985 (there will be more extracts in the show) where Pepper recorded thoughts (or should one say bombasts) about The Disability Handbook which screamed of prejudice and fired Pepper up (could she get any hotter?) and led her to getting in touch with Disability Arts in London. The rest, to clobber a cliché, is history (well her story).
As if we weren't already floored we heard Flawed, a powerful protest against the government cuts to the ILF, without which we would not be 'listening' to Pepper's work with the added ingredient of Jo-anne Cox's cello, that drove the show onwards.
Closing with a reprise of Cripplegate "Come to Cripplegate, come to Cripplegate, come Cripplegate Town." Moving the audience to sing along in Suzi Quatro Cripplegate Drive fashion!
Penny Pepper: Lost in Spaces – a one-woman show premieres in September at Soho Theatre. A personal journey of discovery connecting to the universal.