Aside from just being a WONDERFUL title for a piece of theatre, Sexy Lamp is named after a test invented by Kelly Sue DeConnick. In a film, if you can replace a female character with a ‘sexy lamp’ and the plot still works, then the film has failed. Thus explains the unusual title of this engaging and beautifully crafted one woman show… and why performer Katie Arnstein is wearing a lampshade as the audience enters the auditorium.
Arnstein combines storytelling, audio mash-ups from films, and comedy to unfold her experience of being a woman in the acting world. Clearly befitting the current #metoo movement, Katie’s story is a harrowing reminder of the everyday battles women face, particularly as an actor at the beginning of their career. Arnstein consciously uses the First Philosophy of Improv, ‘Yes, and?’, to frame her tales that explore how to balance optimism and willingness without being taken advantage of in an often brutal industry.
There are some fascinating insights into a covert side of the world we’re living in. No spoilers, here, but Arnstein talks of the surprising, shady inner-workings of a high-street department store, her meeting with a less-than-professional Actor’s Agent on a canal boat, and the nightmare of being slowly pushed lightyears out of her comfort zone during an audition.
Arnstein’s comic timing carries the sinister side of her story along with a well-measured levity. She is, quite simply, a delight to watch. The light-heartedness could sit uncomfortably with the sinister subject matter, but it is too cleverly crafted. Nothing is sugar-coated, but every story is told with humour and pathos. Not only is the performer a first-rate actor, she is a through-and-through artist. The simple staging, a chair and a lamp (of course), are used sparingly but with maximum impact. Arnstein jokes about the low-budget set up, another example of her using every chance to bring comedy into her story. The whole narrative, the pace and the way it is staged, is watertight and creative.
The #metoo movement is, to put it bluntly, grim. With every media headline it only gets grimmer. The theatre and film industry, as Katie points out, are at the forefront of representing what happens not only on a film set or behind the curtain on a stage, but behind the office doors of many professions, in the lives of women in all industries. Yet Katie’s story is not full of doom. It’s packed with inspiring, powerful little experiences and moments that represent an uprising: people protecting each other, collectively trying to change the norm. It’s moving to engage with one person’s bad experiences. More so to have them delivered to entertain, to inspire, and to invite a feeling of connectively with our fellow humans that doesn’t just highlight the awful but offers a chance to make the world a better place. There are women who are perhaps not in the position to take this perspective but this is Katie’s experience, and her piece of theatre allows her to take ownership of her experiences. What a glorious kind of activism.
Presented by: Katie Arnstein
Directed by: Ellen Havard
Playing until: The show has now finished its run