Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival

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by Bryony Rae Taylor

Katie Arnstein’s show Sexy Lamp tears down the acting industry, its gendered prejudices,  its inclination to dispose of women and to objectify them, all in the space of an hour. She is eloquent, gentle, and the show packs a long-lasting impact.

Arnstein greets her audience at the door to Bicycles and Fish with a flying saucer sweet for each of us. I tell her that I am ready to listen (cringe – where did that come from?) and sit in the front row. Like Sexy Lamp, she cultivates the most tangibly comforting atmosphere. And it’s genuine: she wants you to have a nice time.

This is so necessary, because the theme of the show is a depressingly relatable one – it focuses on a range of young women’s experiences of being young women. From the outright traumatic – like being accosted on public transport by drunk men and  receiving unsolicited kisses – to the more insidious, small stuff that women put up with on a day-to-day basis, Arnstein shows this is still a men’s world.

Bicycles and Fish is the first part of a trilogy that includes Sexy Lamp, and Arnstein is performing all three plays in one day at the Vaults, finishing with her new show Sticky Door. Using her signature, high-budget props, including the cardboard placard (à la Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually), the ukulele, and a couple of chairs, Katie spends an hour exploring formative experiences from her childhood. She’s in a school uniform, complete with a tie tied so short. It’s pure commitment to character, and a blast from school days’ past.

At the beginning, she acknowledges the limits of the representation and experiences she covers in the show, but this is what is so good about her. She communicates her own stories of personal growth in a way that nurtures a lovely, collective response. An  infectious, mini-activism occurs in the room between Arnstein and her audience. And when you leave the room, things feel a bit less terrible.

My soppiest reviews are always for Katie Arnstein. But she’s just a force for good, and she makes you smile, and she has your back.

Bicycles and Fish runs through 16 February.

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