The top floor performance space of the Soho Theatre took me back to the gig venues of my Punk/Goth youth, with it's gloom being almost physical. The black walls and floor also reminded me of so many of my friend's squats of the time too, but I some what expect this was partly why the venue was chosen for tonight's show. Poet and author Penny Pepper's Lost In Spaces takes the audience back to the heady days of the Post Punk Blank, Smirnoff driven fumblings and ozone destroying hair spray with such clarity and poignancy it captured the era perfectly... but I am jumping the gun here.
The show divides into spaces, three spaces, childhood, youth and modern day and Penny Pepper uses words like paint to create vivid canvases depicting her life as a disabled woman, each poem or piece of prose a snapshot of an event of importance or a moment that changed who she would become. Her words, housed in a giant magic hollowed out book having been printed onto ersatz books from her childhood for Ms Pepper to regale us with, are accompanied by music, projections and videos and all are wielded to draw us in and take us on a journey through the life of Penny Pepper.
As the show proceeds I find myself growing more and more shocked at how much that life mirrors my own. As I look round the audience I see many others feel the same way, disabled and non-disabled alike. This is one of Ms Pepper's strengths. She takes her own life, thoughts, hopes, dreams, traumas, and tragedies and by sharing them them in her art she creates a shared experience for all who witness her creative output. The room for tonight's show nod, laugh, cheer and hold back tears as Lost In Spaces touches each of us with beautifully crafted exerts from the memoirs of Penny Pepper.
It's not all perfect though. Tonight's show is a little long and I was told by some visually impaired members of the audience that they got lost in places due to the lack of audio description, but anyone who knows the output of the Soho Theatre knows it is a place where artists try out their shows. With a tour in the offing I am sure that by the time Lost In Spaces hits the road any teething troubles will have been ironed out. I know I will be in the audience on that tour, again ready to be enthralled at the trials of Ms Penny Pepper and I will join in with the chorus of the crowd pleasing anthem "Cripplegate Town" with gusto.
The irony of Lost In Spaces is that the phase that I think best describes it is Triumphing Over Tragedy, a phrase that every disabled artist will have had printed about them at some point and one that Ms Penny rails against during the show. Not the usual stereotypical triumph over the tragedy of being disabled, but a triumph of talent and creativity with a side order of tenacity over the total lack of spaces for disabled talent to prove their metal. Lost In Spaces craves it's won space and proves just what disabled artists can achieve. Watch out, Penny Pepper is coming and you must find yourself Lost In Space with her!
Image of Penny Pepper during rehearsals Copyright Fiona Essex Use By Permission