Theatre review: ‘Sexy Lamp’, by Katie Arnstein

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The ‘Sexy Lamp Test’: if a female character could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

Funny, conversational, moving and devastatingly honest, ‘Sexy Lamp’ is the new story and performance from Katie Arnstein, who previously won awards for her debut show Bicycles and Fish.

The show starts as arguably too few shows do, with the solo performer Arnstein wearing a lampshade on her head, listening to Seth McFarlane’s sexist song ‘We Saw Your Boobs’ (which McFarlane performed at the 2013 Oscars). This is a nod to Kelly Sue DeConnick’s ‘Sexy Lamp Test’, from which the show takes its name, and which determines if a female character is relevant to the plot of an artistic work or merely decoration. If a female role could be replaced by an item of otherwise alluring lighting without changing the story, it has failed the Sexy Lamp Test.

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Katie Arnstein delivers a 5-star performance in a 5-star show. Photography by Simon Jefferis.

Complete with charming, informal conversation, pitch-perfect impressions, and (very good) ukulele songs, Arnstein delivers a show that is thoroughly inspired by – and part of – the ongoing #MeToo movement. ‘Sexy Lamp’ charts her journey from a seven-year-old inspired by Judy Garland’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, to a woman inspired by a desire to put right the fact that Garland was put on addictive, appetite suppressing drugs by Oz’s producers, while being paid less than all the other principal actors except Toto the Dog.

The writing is sharp and fresh, and the work as a whole is inquisitive, analytical, contemplative; significant. It’s also deeply personal, giving it the sense of a performative memoir and in the end it leaves you feeling as though you’ve spent a long while in the intimate company of a stranger, who nonetheless somehow feels achingly familiar.

Indeed, in her personal account of her story working in the industry she clearly loves, Arnstein presents us with scenes and experiences that far too many women will be able to recognise as having seen or experienced themselves.

This isn’t ever about sharing sympathy (despite the abundance of empathy on display here). Rather, this play is in many ways a rebellion against what has come before and a rallying cry against the old, sexist, world-order. There are revelations against certain companies that will make your jaw drop (not least because of the matter-of-fact tone of delivery that juxtaposes the enormity of the content you’re hearing). There are lessons to be learned in standing up against your useless agent who never gets you a gig, and the empowerment that comes from realising you are able to use the word “no”. Perhaps most poignantly, there is a beautiful example of the power of solidarity that exists between people as the show reaches its conclusion – that provides a case study in how to stop perverts and harassers in their tracks, and lifts the whole scale of the performance to an extremely moving end.

You might have come for the lamps; but you’ll stay for the luminescence of the performance, and you’ll come away enlightened.

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Ballot Beats – promoting the youth vote through poetry

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As the deadline to register to vote in the 2017 General Election nears, 7 million voters – most of them younger – remain disenfranchised. This continues a long-recognised trend in British elections; in 2015, only 43% of young people aged 18-24 voted in the General Election, compared to an overall turnout of 66 % and a turnout of 78% for those aged over 65.

Nothing in the Rulebook has long championed the power that the arts have to inspire and affect change; so a new project from the brilliant minds behind the Theatre Centre really caught our eye. The group is looking to use the power of poetry to cultivate advocacy and galvanise action from young audiences, moving them towards compassion, conversation and campaigns.

Working with award winning poet Mr Gee, the group ran poetry workshops in different parts of the UK and encouraged young people to create poems about their beliefs, and why voting feels important to them.

Some of these young people can already vote – most of them can’t: they need other young people to be their voices, and to tick their ballot papers. Their words, beliefs and rhymes have been collected and shared in #BallotBeats

A spokesperson for the group said: “At Theatre Centre we believe young people need and deserve representation. We believe that the best way of achieving this representation is through voting. We want to help encourage young people to get their voices heard and to vote. We want their concerns to be placed at the heart of the political agenda and to be visible with our political landscape.”

Nothing in the Rulebook Co-Founder, Professor Wu, praised the importance of the #BallotBeats project: “The Conservative Party called the 2017 election on the assumption that young people will remain apathetic to the democratic process. They are absolutely banking on the youth vote not turning up; because they know if this were to change they would face a nigh impossible task of forming a government to implementing the cruel and Victorian-era policies of their regressive manifesto. Rest assured it is completely within their interests – and the interests of the corporate elite – to keep the status quo as it is, and keep young people bored and disgusted by politics, and prevent them from realising the power that they truly wield. What a great victory it would be if this were to change and those people who will have to live longest with the outcome of this election turned up en masse to the polling booths on 8th June.”

“Poetry has a long-standing tradition of inspiring protest and activism, and Theatre Centre’s #BallotBeats project is exactly the sort of galvanising initiative that is needed to bring a little more hope and optimism to the world at a time where so much around us seems created to inspire fear and cynicism.”

For more details about the work of Theatre Centre and #BallotBeats please contact Emily on emily@theatre-centre.co.uk or call 020 7729 3066. You can also follow them on Twitter (@TCLive) and Facebook.

 

Living Room Les Mis

The stage adaptation of Victor Hugo’s timeless classic, Les Miserables, has been thrilling audiences for decades. Yet going to the theatre is just so darn expensive. Surely there must be a better way to capture the same thrills – the same spills – but without having to spend half your paycheque on seats with an impeded view of the stage?

Living Room Les Mis is the affordable alternative to the stage show in an age of rising living costs. In fact it’s so low budget, no one really even needs to change out of their pyjamas.

In this week’s episode of Living Room Les Mis, we bring you the classic favourite: The Confrontation.

Stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled for more Living Room Les Mis!

 

Poetry Can F*ck Off is coming to London and Brighton

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Heathcote Williams’ radical new work, Poetry Can F*ck Off is coming to The Cockpit Theatre, London on 29th, 30th, and 31st October 2015; and The Other Place Theatre, Brighton on 20th, and 21st November.

“Poetry Can F*ck Off is a revolution in poetry. And it’s the revolution in poetry”

-Jeremy Hardy

 

When Brainfruit artistic director and seasoned performer, Roy Hutchins began his daily visits to Brighton Occupy in 2011, he did what he does best – rouse the crowds with the words of radical poet, Heathcote Williams.

Williams, known for his idiosyncratic documentary/investigative poetry style, was in turn inspired by Hutchins’ activism to reflect on the role of poetry in all political uprisings, and Poetry Can F*ck Off was born.

 

“A picker pucker panoramic poetry parade”

John Hegley

 

Performed with live music, Brainfruit’s epic production charts the great resistance movements from the Peasants’ Revolt to Occupy Wall Street. Over 80 poets are referenced in a 55-minute mind-bending maelstrom – a compendium of the courageous, creative voices who called for change, from Shelley to Ginsberg to Pussy Riot.

Their Edinburgh run culminated in Williams being awarded the most prestigious award of the festival: The Glasgow Herald Archangel – Lifetime’s Achievement Award.

From Tahrir Square to Fukushima to Mesopotamia, this is not canonical school stuff its electrifying and erudite, passionate and political

-Three Weeks

 

Roy Hutchins is joined by Sameena Zehra, who cut her teeth performing AIDS awareness shows on the streets of Delhi; Jonny Fluffypunk, designated poet of the Bristol squat scene; Selina Nwulu, daughter of Nigerian refugees, charting her parents’ flight from the civil war in her poetry; and they are joined by a host of special guests – all underscored with live, original music from Dr Blue.

A convincing case for poetry as weapon of choice in the revolution

-Sabotage Reviews

 

In the light of recent political events, this radical work finds itself a part of a much larger movement of artists, liberals and activists calling for change, and the response (and in many cases participation) of the audience has been electric. The reminder that words alone can bring down a tyrant, encapsulate a vision, or simply embarrass complacent leaders into action, has never been more timely.

Auden said, Poetry

Makes nothing happen. Auden

Was quite mistaken.

The world that you know

Can have its entire shape changed

By just one poem. Poetry teaches

The heart to think.

 

Poetry was school

Roddy Doyle recalls.

All poetry could fuck off.

Professor Wu says:

“This much needed poetic call to arms promises to provide a crucial rallying cry against authority figures whose pursuit of power at all costs threatens to reduce our society and culture to binary and uninspired norms of cultural subservience and insignificance. Nothing in the Rulebook wholeheartedly recommends you attend one – if not all! – of these upcoming shows. This revolution will be poetic.”

Further reading

To find out more about the project, follow @PoetryCanFckOff on Twitter, Like their Facebook Page and check out their website!