Katie Arnstein isn’t quite a stand up. I don’t say that because for the vast majority of Sexy Lamp she’s sat down, but because to me it feels she’s something a bit more grand than that.
Katie is instead a raconteur. Straight up Peter Ustinov style storytelling in a way that beguiles and intrigues. It leaves you invested in more than just the humour (of which there is plenty) and the pathos (of which there is just the right amount).
Sexy Lamp is a sparse production. There is a lamp (finding this sexy is optional) some stage lights and Arnstein on a chair weaving her tale. Occasionally with a ukulele. If I have a criticism of Sexy Lamp at all, it would be that the ukulele felt a little peripheral. In a way it didn’t in Bicycles and Fish – Katie’s previous show. But I think this is largely because Katie has grown as a communicator and this prop no longer feels essential. More a safety blanket she doesn’t yet know she’s grown out of.
Given the sparseness, Arnstein manages to make the stage her own. At one moment an intimidating audition theatre, then a boat where the seasickness is visceral.
Katie returns to the feminist theme of Bicycles and Fish discussing her early years at a ‘regional drama school’ then starting out as an actress in London. By discussing honestly the absurdities inherent in her own experiences she also exposes the wider misogyny and lack of challenge to it in the acting industry.
At a moment where #metoo has finally broken through at the top end, this show brings a timely spotlight to the power dynamic issues of thousands of inexperienced young actresses being encouraged to have a “yes to anything” attitude, endlessly being told how expendable and interchangeable they are and the monied men of the arts who exploit them.
I loved Sexy Lamp. It’s intelligent without being condescending, friendly without being over familiar and universal enough that every woman in the audience spent the hour nodding along. This is the joy of great storytelling, hearing a talented raconteur lead you through their tale with peaks of laughter and moments of real sorrow. It was such a complete show and a complete joy.