Pros: Great one liners and anecdotes.
Cons: The man sitting near the stage who left his seat and returned to it three times in the space of an hour.
It often happens that I review a show favourably even though I don’t sympathise with its message. Today’s show, however, gets four stars mostly because I do sympathise with its message. Also, the messenger is pretty cool. Pink-haired and jiggly, in trainers and a skin-tight dress that accentuates every curve and bulge, Penny Arcade’s refusal to conform is evident before she’s yelled a single word.
Longing Lasts Longer is a sixty minute monologue spoken (or indeed yelled), over an eclectic, fragmented soundtrack, and broken up by brief dance interludes. There is also a lot of crazy lighting which seems to be primarily for the purpose of variety, rather than for any essential connection with the text. Penny regularly loses the thread of her monologue and has a giggle as Steve, her on-stage DJ/stooge, points her in the right direction again. I don’t know how much this is genuine, and how much is simulated anarchy, but it does add to the intimacy of the performance, making it less like stand-up or cabaret, and more like a salon.
Penny starts with a slightly lame reflection on Sleeping Beauty, but builds the pace and intensity as she moves on to the gentrification of New York. She is scathing about the suburbanisation of a city which, when she moved there in the 1960s, was a haven for outsiders and a destination for pleasure-seekers. She is tremendously funny when she singles out the cupcake as the epitome of that gentrification, a ‘tool of oppression’ and illustration of the banality of evil. But Penny’s interpretation of ‘gentrification’ goes beyond mere town planning. To her it is the widespread suppression of authenticity, of variety, of the desire to live dangerously. Young people, advertising, censorship and gay culture are just some of the subjects that come in for her satirical savaging, and there’s no doubt about it, Penny is angry.
Ordinarily, being half-deafened by an angry Baby Boomer with a microphone would not be my idea of fun. But whilst the volume doesn’t vary very much, the emotional landscape does. The passage in which she explains the difference between nostalgia and longing is full of pathos; when she describes herself as being part of the control group, she is defiant; when she talks about her own extended youth and happiness, she is passionate and evangelical. It is also a fascinating and mostly hilarious lesson in recent history from a woman who has absolutely practised what she preaches, and whose excellent memory belies the fact that she was at the very heart of the counterculture.
Given the adoring audience at the Soho Theatre that night, Penny Arcade could probably have read out her shopping list to rapturous applause. Instead, she went all out with a furious and impassioned lament. Though many of her complaints about modern life would not have sounded out of place in the local conservation society office, or at the breakfast table of the reactionary old fogey, Penny’s wit, self-awareness and energy made them sound radical.
At the end of an hour with Penny I felt invigorated. I had been part of a benign mass-coaching session that challenged our complacency and dared us to live at the same time more adventurously and more reflectively.
Author: Penny Arcade
Director: Penny Arcade & Steve Zehentner
Booking Until: 21st November 2015
Box office: 020 7478 0100
Booking link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/penny-arcade-longing-lasts-longer/