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Challenging and witty show still relevant after two decades, writes Rachael Claye

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Penny Arcade does something incredible in her show, Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore!, now playing at the Arcola Tent in Dalston.

This is a theatrical performance that takes some unthinkable risks. Nipple tassles? Tick. Pole dancing? Tick. Erotic and homoerotic floor shows? Tick. Naked rant by a lady in her sixties on obscenity and censorship? Tick.

So why did it work, scooping us up for the ride despite our inhibitions?

It is the warmth, wit and occasional vulnerability of Arcade herself, who has spent the past four decades winning audiences round to her brand of pro-sex feminism. As she tells us early on: ‘I use erotic dancing, especially women, because it is the only thing that women have designed that controls men, unlike all the things men have designed that control women.’

Arcade speaks to us through a mixture of character comedy, memoir and occasional tirade. There are numerous lines that are laugh-out-loud funny – as when, in the persona of a brothel receptionist, she announces that ‘the sexual revolution didn’t do a thing for women in this business other than drive down the price’.

There are moments of pathos too, as when her faghag persona confides the misery of seeing friends dying from the 1980s’ mystery plague, AIDS.

Arcade wrote B!D!F!W! two decades ago after a US senator banned the National Endowment of the Arts from providing funds for ‘obscene or indecent art’. She set out to make a show about sex, politics and self-censorship that humanises and dignifies the women it portrays.

She succeeded, and B!D!F!W! is as challenging, relevant and witty now as it was then. Go and see it – unless you’re appalled at the prospect, in which case see it twice.

* Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! is at the Arcola Tent in Ashwin Street, E8, until July 22.

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