Cage – The Vaults
Reviewed – 12th February 2020
“If good art holds a mirror up to nature, then Sticky Door provides a remarkably clear reflection”
Katie Arnstein is on a roll, coming into 2020 off the back of two successful solo shows: her 2018 Bicycles and Fish, and 2019 follow-up Sexy Lamp. Arnstein’s latest piece, Sticky Door, completes the feminist trilogy. You can catch all three shows at VAULT Festival this week.
The title Sticky Door refers to a quote by Minouche Shafik, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. Shafik argued that systemic sexism is not like a glass ceiling, which when shattered leaves the way free and clear for other women to follow. Sexism is more like a sticky door: it helps to have someone pulling from the other side, and once pried open, sticks shut again.
Arnstein’s performance combines storytelling and original songs she accompanies with the ukulele. Like her previous shows, this one draws heavily from personal experience. Arnstein takes us back to 2014: the year she had an epiphany that she’d been a passive participant in all of her relationships, and decided to correct for it by embarking on a year of casual sex, which she would initiate.
In a smartly written, very funny monologue, Arstein shares her stories of sex, sexism, cystitis, and the worst flat in London. In her breathless narration – she packs a lot of words into sixty minutes – the jokes fly fast. Her love of language is evident, and much of the comedy comes from incredibly clever similes. Puns also crop up repeatedly. Considering the heavy subject matter, including discussion of depression and assault, Arnstein’s approach is fresh and entertaining. And while her bubbly lightness is undeniably engaging, she shows notable skill in her ability switch gears, reign in the levity, and allow the serious moments to be serious.
If good art holds a mirror up to nature, then Sticky Door provides a remarkably clear reflection. Many will see pieces of their own experiences in Arnstein’s stories. Although Sexy Lamp may feel like a more directed, cohesive show, Sticky Door cuts deep with its argument that society grooms girls to tolerate harassment and abuse: to direct their anger inwardly, and translate it to guilt and shame, as opposed to outwardly, at the perpetrators and a society that caters to them. With moving conviction, Arnstein calls for women to believe they deserve better, and to find the courage not to accept less.
Arnstein offers up her own encounters with misogyny for dissection with intelligence and insight. Her shows are a gift to the women in the audience in particular, who will undoubtably leave feeling less alone.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 15th December 2017
“a romping yarn with a wicked sense of humour”
I’m sure somewhere in my childhood I either read the Wolves of Willoughby Chase or it was on tv. I know I was a total coward as a child, I watched Daleks from behind the sofa and refused point blank to see anything with ‘ghost’ in the title. When I was eight, some long forgotten kids thriller (certificate PG) gave me nightmares for weeks and vaguely traumatised me for life, so I was a little concerned this story may well have been it, so I decided not to investigate further and to just go and watch this production with no real idea what tale would unfold (gulp).
It set a very atmospheric scene from the start with mist swirling around frosted oak trees, and the silhouette of buildings looming from the small and well used space (designed by Karl Swinyard) while the distant hint of howling hummed, and sinister dark figures emerged …
The young heroine Bonnie (played with gusto by Rebecca Rayne), is loved, indulged and blissfully unaware of her fate when her parents leave their estate, and her, in the dastardly hands of new governess Miss Slighcarp (villinously played by Adam Elliott). Quickly joined by her treacherous companion Mr Grimshaw (played by Bryan Pilkington) Bonnie’s life is thoroughly dismantled by the greedy pair.
Her poor, frail cousin (played with perfect decreasing wimpishness by Julia Pagett) becomes her companion, with local Simon (played by Andrew Hollingworth) their nearest friend in the remote woods that surround the house and shelter the howling wolves. But the children battle to save home and family, forced to take on a quest with courage and determination, with only a handful of allies – and geese – along the way.
The plot comes from a wonderful 1960s adventure story for boys & girls from a novel by Joan Aiken, but set over 100 years earlier, and has been adapted gloriously by Russ Tunney into a romping yarn with a wicked sense of humour. The pace is amazingly fast as you race through the tale, each classic plot twist embraced, loved and delivered with a raised eyebrow, a flounce, or an outrageous grimace.
Although the two ‘girls’ are a constant in the story, the rest of the roles are played by Adam Elliott, Andrew Hollingworth and Bryan Pilkington via quick change, off-stage voices and sheer physicality of acting. There is a tangible sense of the build up to the final show down, and the inevitable meeting of many of the characters (played by the same actor) making the urgency and humour delight the audience. I loved the way characters excused themselves to return as someone else, it didn’t detract from the story at all and filled the theatre with laughter.
With a few songs thrown in for good measure, an utter obsession with cheese, and a brilliant performance from the whole cast this is a fantastically feel-good, festive production. Oh and the laughs are ‘Simply Ridiculous’!
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by Tim Stubbs Hughes
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
is at Jack Studio Theatre until 6th January 2018