Katie Arnstein’s Sexy Lamp emerges as probably the best thing I’ve seen at the VAULT Festival so far – she really is one to watch
“His story is as unresolved as any female character’s in a Michael Bay film”
Katie Arnstein’s Bicycles and Fish was one of the highlights of last year’s VAULT festival for me, so I couldn’t but approach her new show Sexy Lamp with just a touch of raised expectations. So it is with pleasure that I can report I gave my first standing o of this year, accompanied by many others (in fact, the first I’ve seen at the VAULT so far).
Arnstein’s style is of the deceptively gentle confessional. She’ll lure you in with Love Actually-style handwritten signs, catchy tunes from her ukulele and a wonderfully wry sense of humour. But then she’ll clobber you over the head with searingly honest insight and brutal anecdotal evidence from the front line – in this case, of trying to become an actor in an industry that too often leaves women interchangeable with, well, sexy lamps.
There’s something beguilingly wonderful about the way Arnstein crafts her words, the beauty in lyrics like “there’s a twinkle in the London Eye”. But its her social critiques that really hit home. No one is left unscathed from her sweetly savage takedowns – morning joggers, men who own boats, fellow actors, children in her audiences who dare voice opinions…but she slides the dagger in and out so smilingly quickly that you’d probably say thank you for the privilege.
But there’s deadly serious intent here too, a forthright plea to recognise that whilst many of us may only have been using the #MeToo hashtag for a year, people have been living the #MeToo experience for years. And as Katie recounts the many micro-aggressions that accompany being an aspiring actor, she shows how easily they metastastise into greater and more forceful crimes as those in positions of power seek to abuse that power to exploit, humiliate, even assault.
Arnstein’s strength of character shines through, a resilience that enables her to be sanguine now, but she’s careful to show us that it is one she has had to build up. Like scar tissue, it doesn’t come naturally, it is forged through conflict, through learning how to navigate the many pitfalls of an innately patriarchal business and, by extension, society at large. And crucially, she underscores the importance of how to recognise and support others going through the same journey – hashtags really only go so far if you’re serious about making change.