Sexy Lamp (Online review)

Sexy Lamp (Online review)

As a general rule I like to vary my online theatre going on a daily basis just to keep things fresh; however, when it comes to live streamed one offs that isn’t always going to be possible. Thus, for the second day running I found myself logging onto the Shedinburgh Fringe website following yesterday’s Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons. This time it was to view Katie Arnstein’s one person show Sexy Lamp which mixes story telling, comedy and music. This is the middle part of a trilogy by Arnstein called It’s A Girl! I’d actually been due to see the first part Bicycles And Fish and this show as part of Jermyn Street’s Footprints Festival a couple of months ago, but they didn’t go ahead. So, it was good to catch up with at least one part; luckily for me it’s a thematic rather than sequentially narrative trilogy, so I didn’t feel too lost.

As for the title, that’s a bit more complicated although it is explained in the show’s opening. The Bechdel test is used to assess the value of female characters in a film and states that the movie has to have at least two women as leading characters who talk about something other than a man. Taking this one stage further comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick declared in a 2012 interview: “If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft. They have to be protagonists, not devices.” Arnstein has taken this as her starting point and indeed, in a prelude to the main show, appears complete with a lampshade on her head. However. she soon reverts to a rather more undisguised form and, although there is only one of her and she does sometimes talk about men, the focus is on her own story.

In a nutshell it is a reflection about how Arnstein got into acting and a call to arms against the rampant sexism which still exists in areas of the world of the arts. If the second part of this terse summary makes the show sound like a bit of a downer it is far from that. It’s an hour of wit, intelligence and consummate story telling from a highly animated performer (even though seated for most of the show) which makes you stop and think even as you are being entertained. Structured around a tick list of things which needed to be achieved in order for her to achieve her goals, a number of anecdotes, from the performer’s own life, are pressed into service, the most cringe inducing of which is her account of an audition where she was instructed to disrobe for no discernible reason whatsoever. This also seems to have been somewhat of a turning point for Arnstein who notices lower level but still inappropriate behaviour on the tube and hastens to the rescue of a fellow traveller. From here she resolves to go forward and call out inappropriate behaviour wherever it occurs. In the wake of the #MeToo movement (though the piece was conceived before that particular watershed moment) the piece may even have more relevance than originally.

Again, I’m making it seem heavy when it is far from that. There’s a delightful section about appearing in the school play aged 7 identified as the light bulb moment for pursuing a career in the acting profession. There are telling insights into the whole process of casting calls with some real life examples of inappropriate practice and downright creepy behaviour. And what to make of her agent Phillip, though he styles himself as Phillipe because it’s classier; I just hope that he’s an exaggerated caricature but fear he may not be. The various anecdotes are interspersed with ukulele accompanied songs which help with the generally breezy tone. The whole is backgrounded by Arnstein’s obsession with The Wizard Of Oz which not only provides a number of cultural reference points but also demonstrates the central point of the thesis as we hear how badly Judy Garland was treated as the film was being made and reveals how the only actor who earned less than her was the dog playing Toto.

It’s both a challenging hour and one that is filled with all sorts of delights from a storyteller on a mission and I’d be interested to experience the other two parts of the trilogy. In fact, Arnstein is performing Sticky Door, the third part (live) at The Pleasance in London at the end of the month so who knows?

Sexy Lamp streamed live as part of the online Shedinburgh Festival – click here

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