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Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer

At a decade sweeping 66 years old, the Warhol-superstar Goliath was pulling no punches on her drop-in 12–day slot during this year’s Fringe. She has seen more decades go by than three quarters of the audience on her final night but she is still more radical than most of the 20-somethings I know.

The show started with Arcade in conversation with her audience filing in; a welcoming change it has to be said to watch a performer who is actually comfortable with her audience both on and off-stage.  It was easy to see how she earned her place amongst the likes of Edie Sedgwick, for she holds the room without seemingly trying. Before the show even begins already she moves with ease in and out of conversation, from her distaste of what she interprets as the jealousy and hypocrisy of mature feminists to having private chats with the front row whilst seating audience members. Whether we agreed or disagreed, she has own opinion and isn’t afraid of her audience (thank God.)

The hour-long performance is mostly made up of spoken word, where she filters through hot-topics from the rise of Trump to the dangers of globalisation and encroachment on local culture. One of the main memorable highlights of the show was her unerring, and at first confusing, rejection of nostalgia. You would think a woman that is most known for her links to the past would honour that legacy; however, it turns out she doesn’t believe in living in the past… although she does admit “it is true, we did get the better drugs”.

She swiftly moves on to give us a history lesson, starting from the rise of propagandistic adverts influenced by Edward Bernays (nephew to a certain Sigmund Freud) and the subsequent corporate mind-control in the decades since. It seems age had not mellowed Arcade’s anarchic spirit, as her links to Warhol’s factory and the suspicious subcultures of the sixties underground became ever more clear throughout the performance.

“By the seventies we were up to our heads but we could still see the advertisers for what they were, nowadays kids are fully immersed. And its fucking scary.”

The most liberating thing of all was her absolute refusal to accept that growing old is a weakness. Throughout the performance it was made clear Arcade hates people because of their stupidity and not because of their youth. She constantly recounts stories of friends whispering their age behind closed doors and back rooms, almost like an admission of guilt during a confessional. To an audience that was evenly cross-generational she didn’t come across as bitter and resentful to young people. She understands the pressures young people are under to lead this imagined hedonistic lifestyle, whilst also expected to work all day, every day, and to settle down with a mortgage by the ripe old age of 28. Personally, the most engaging part I found was her empathy to under 30’s. She lamented those who are throwing away their youth to be shackled up to get married, buy (I joke of course, rent) a house and manacle ourselves to lifelong perpetual student debt – a reality none of us are strangers to.

The performance unexpectedly hit quite close to home from what I thought was going to be a look back at her glory days. Instead, it put me to shame, disavowing nostalgia and managing to impressively empathise with an audience ranging from 18 to 80. There is a recognition she was one of the last of the old guard; of those who were allowed to be young in contrast to the bi-polar demands of society to simultaneously settle-down and get serious (“Young people know about wines now. What 20-year-old had a favourite wine forty years ago?”), yet constantly innovate and “be free”. Arcade proves longing does last longer these days, be it acceptance yourself and sticking your ground, or pining for youth that seems unachievable in 2016 – one that is uncompromising and intimidatingly witty.

Photo credit: © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

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The Student Newspaper 2016