“I’m gonna sing you a sad song, Susie”. The sombre lines of Kenny Rogers’s break-up anthem float over our arrival at Fringe warrior Penny Arcade’s (Susana Ventura) new show for Soho Theatre. The cabaret turns that have defined her near-50 year career may be somewhat blurred in this new performance, as Arcade guns for the mass-movements and gentrifications that are abolishing spaces for cultural thought and practice.
The performer’s outsider-thinking was obvious from childhood, preferring the Alexander McQueen chic of the Queen over the blandness of Snow White. From the apple in the Garden of Eve to the Big Apple, Arcade charts radicality from its origins to the present-day New York, which she describes as being in a sugar coma: “New Yorkers need a cupcake like I need a joint”.
These killer one-liners – delivered with the camp, chewed up expressions that Arcade no doubt picked up from her time in the 1960’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous – sustain a rather academic entreaty. She apologises for the laying on of sociological theory, making references to Hannah Arendt and Guy Debord, and stresses the importance of taking action with our bodies instead. Leaping, strutting and stamping through the grooves of Steve Zehentner’s excellent soundscape – from Rogers to the tantalising strains of Jeff Buckley’s Sky is a Landfill – there is a sense of urgency.
More so, there is desperation in Arcade’s fear-filled eyes, having seen the decline of 1960s revolutionaries and Warholian superstars, and the rising dominance of political-correctness epitomised by today’s Millennials. To be called the wrong pronoun in the supermarket is not prejudice, she says: “That don’t make you Rosa Parks at the back of the bus”.
Furthermore, a fatalistic perception of ageing is seen against the vintage-shopping backdrop of today’s youth culture. Against all these odds, the event dares us to embrace our destines. Arcade is drug, sex and rock’n’roll, a damn champion of the counter-culture. “I’m the control group” she muses, a bold glint of hope in her eye, “… and I’m not the only one”.