Review: Sticky Door, VAULT Festival

With Sticky Door, the final part of her It’s A Girl! trilogy at the VAULT Festival, Katie Arnstein proves herself a worthy heir to Victoria Wood 

“Like Sweeney Todd, I’ve had an epiphany”

In her latest show, Katie Arnstein makes a joke that people have been comparing her shtick to Phoebe Waller-Bridge but I’d disagree, I’d argue that it is the spirit of Victoria Wood that she channels most effectively in her work, which goes a long way to explaining why I enjoy it so much. After the successes of Bicycles and Fish and the extraordinary Sexy Lamp, she returns to the VAULT Festival with the final instalment of her It’s A Girl! trilogy, Sticky Door.

And I’m glad to say we’re not in The Godfather Part III territory as far as threequels go, though it proves a little difficult to watch for different reasons. Sticky Door is blessed with the same searing honesty that has marked her previous plays and as she delves into her experience of the year 2014 when she decided to have a whole lotta sex and also discovered that she was extremely depressed, the result is something that feels deeply, affectingly, personal.  Continue reading “Review: Sticky Door, VAULT Festival”

2020 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see

Insofar as it is humanly possible for any one person to know everything that is happening at the VAULT Festival this year, I present a handful of my recommendations for 2020.

In all honesty though, I think the best thing to do is just pick a night, go down there and see what tickles your fancy – the level of quality here really is something to admire and means it’ll be very hard to end up disappointed. Take a look at their website here.

LGBT+ stories

Body Talk – 29 Jan — 02 Feb
Full Disclosure Theatre take on male body image from the gay perspective, looking at the damage that can be imposed by obsessing over it.

how we love 18 — 23 Feb
Regi and Babs are getting married. She’s a lesbian and he’s gay but they need the cover to deal with the dangers posed by the prevailing attitudes towards homosexuality in Nigeria.

Notch 19 — 23 Feb
After the devilish fun of Ladykiller, the Thelmas return with this dark meditation on migration, homelessness and obsession from Danaja Wass.

V&V 03 — 08 Mar
Exploring communication then and now, V&V contrasts love stories past and present from Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s love letters, to Mia and Lottie’s online missives.

Too Pretty To Punch 03 — 08 Mar
A comedy spoken word show from Edalia Day about gender and featuring original songs and video work about trans life in 21st century Britain. Continue reading “2020 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see”

The 2019 fosterIAN award winners

Best Actress in a Play
Sarah Niles/Natalie Simpson/Racheal Ofori, Three Sisters

Best Actress in a Musical
Audrey Brisson, Amélie the Musical

Best Actor in a Play
Lucian Msamati, ‘Master Harold’…and the boys

Best Actor in a Musical
Jamie Muscato, West Side Story (Curve Leicester)

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Monica Dolan, All About Eve

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Cassidy Janson/Melanie La Barrie, & Juliet 

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Nick Holder, Faith Hope and Charity

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
David Bedella, & Juliet

And my top 10 plays of the year:
1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre

My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

Continue reading “My 10 favourite shows of 2019”

10 questions for 10 years – Katie Arnstein

With dreams of Edinburgh and Bruce Springsteen, Katie Arnstein takes on the 10 questions challenge

One of the best things about the VAULT Festival is the sense of discovery that accompanies its cultivating spirit, the new voices that it amplifies so well. One of the freshest, to my mind, is Katie Arnstein whose wryly confessional monologues have been a real revelation. A name to watch for the future, if there’s any justice in the world

Review: Sexy Lamp, VAULT Festival

Katie Arnstein’s Sexy Lamp emerges as probably the best thing I’ve seen at the VAULT Festival so far – she really is one to watch

“His story is as unresolved as any female character’s in a Michael Bay film”

Katie Arnstein’s Bicycles and Fish was one of the highlights of last year’s VAULT festival for me, so I couldn’t but approach her new show Sexy Lamp  with just a touch of raised expectations. So it is with pleasure that I can report I gave my first standing o of this year, accompanied by many others (in fact, the first I’ve seen at the VAULT so far).

Arnstein’s style is of the deceptively gentle confessional. She’ll lure you in with Love Actually-style handwritten signs, catchy tunes from her ukulele and a wonderfully wry sense of humour. But then she’ll clobber you over the head with searingly honest insight and brutal anecdotal evidence from the front line – in this case, of trying to become an actor in an industry that too often leaves women interchangeable with, well, sexy lamps. Continue reading “Review: Sexy Lamp, VAULT Festival”

2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see

With less than a week to go before the 2019 VAULT Festival opens, I wade my way through the catalogue and come up with 20 shows I think you should catch – in their own words

Now in its seventh year, VAULT Festival returns this year from 23rd January to 17th March with a broad and diverse programme of more than 400 shows in a range of atmospheric venues throughout Waterloo. And as ever, the remit is to be as big and bold as impossible, with the festival featuring theatre, comedy, cabaret, immersive experiences, late night parties, and much more besides.

It can be a little overwhelming to figure out what you want to see, the majority of shows run for a week (Wednesday to Sunday) so you’ll need to move pretty sharpish once you’ve decided – there’s the VAULT Combo deal which saves you money booking more than one show, and some 241 deals available through the Stagedoor app. And to help you, I’ve identified 20 shows (and it could have been so many more!) that appealed to me and asked them to sell themselves in 10 words or less in order to grab your attention.  Continue reading “2019 VAULT Festival – 20 shows to see”

10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2018

Flashes of excellence can be found in the midst of any production so this list celebrates some of those breath-taking and/or memorable moments that really made theatregoing enjoyably fun this year.

For reference, here’s my 2017 list2016 list2015 list and 2014 list.

Being your hero!

No word of a lie, my happiest memory from inside a theatre has to be Knights of the Rose. Nothing about the overblown opening night (including real roses on the seat) prepared us for the moment someone broke out into Enrique Iglesias’ ‘Hero’ in what had been heavily trailed as a rock musical. Kudos to the cast for continuing valiantly on, and thanks for the entertainment.Continue reading “10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2018”

Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival

“My favourite film ever was Beauty and the Beast until we learnt about Stockholm Syndrome in PSHE”

As she acknowledges from the start, Katie Arnstein’s one-woman show Bicycles and Fish is light on both bicycles, and fish. What it is heavy on, is the story of when, aged 16 in a village outside of Lichfield, she stopped being a girl and became a woman, a decision the world made for her. Blending wittily concise stand-up with songs that combine the musical comedy sensibility of the inspirational Victoria Wood with the characterful musicality of Gywneth Herbert plus the forthright power of the confessional, this is a seriously impactful hour.

And it is a well-constructed one too. Arnstein’s writing is so beautifully rich that you can’t help but get hooked on any number of fascinating details that pass as she evokes that feeling of possibility that comes from being a carefree kid. I’d happily watch a spin-off show about the Lichfield Song Contest, or the GPs’ receptionist and her blush-saving acronyms, or June and her broken egg, or the school photo – particularly the school photo!  Continue reading “Review: Bicycles and Fish, VAULT Festival”

2018 Vault Festival – what to see

On the one hand, that the Vault Festival has expanded to over 300 shows running over 8 weeks is fantastic news for the emerging theatremakers that it supports. On the other, it means making the choice about what to see, even tackling the catalogue alone can feel somewhat daunting. It has taken me a wee while to get round to delving into it myself, but as the festival is set to open this week, here’s some of my top tips for each week.

Week 1

Tomorrow Creeps – repurposed Shakespeare via the medium of Kate Bush? Hell, yes.
Tumulus – it’s not a festival unless there’s a chemsex show
Great Again – likewise a Trump-bashing musical 


Week 2

Double Infemnity – gender-flipping noir crime antics in a one-woman show? Whyever the hell not!
Gypsy Queen – gays and boxing, sometimes I’m an easy sell…
Gun – I’ll be trying to catch more comedy than I usually do this year, and this western-inspired show very much seems as good a place to start as any


Week 3

Think of England – love, lust and swing dancing in wartime Waterloo – TICK!
Be Prepared – I’m a fan of writer/performer Ian Bonar so definitely looking forward to this one
Douze – Eurovision pop comedy musical fun, nuff said


Week 4

YOU – a thought-provoking look at adoption, drawing on some deeply personal narratives
STUD – gays and football, a combination that usually works wonders for me!
Elsa – a chirpy sounding piece of reflective musical comedy


Week 5

Sparks – Jessica Butcher is a name that people in the know rave about, Anoushka Lucas is a name I have raved about, together they ought to come up with something special
Conquest – a debut show from PearShaped and one which promises to tackle contemporary feminism with real fearlessness
Still We Dream… – I don’t see much dance but something about this piques my attention, animalistic movement in non-traditional spaces


Week 6

TESTOSTERONE – experimental work pushing the trans narrative forward, one for the Daily Mail-reading person in your life…
Das Fest – in many ways what the Vault Festival is for, for me, to see the type of thing I would never normally book for (as in Philipp Oberlohr’s show last year Das Spiel) and be delighted and not a little freaked out!
The Strongbox – Stephanie Jacob is having a low-key moment, her play Again opens at Trafalgar Studios 2 next month and its final week will overlap with another piece of new writing from her, I suspect they’ll both be worth catching


Week 7

Fuck Marry Kill – a work-in-progress from Vera Chok and Amy Mason which uses the game show format to challenge the patriarchy
Bury the Hatchet – the tale of Lizzie Borden is one of enduring fascination and Out of the Forest are no exception here, using bluegrass, nursery rhyme and horror to retell and reexamine this story
Unburied – a folk horror mystery that just seems most intriguing


Week 8

THINGS THAT DO NOT C(O)UNT – I loved No Offence’s torn apart at the Hope last year, so I’m much intrigued by this new work
The Dirty Thirty – an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 shows in 1 hour – I’m sold!
Tom and Bunny Save The World – another company I’m a big fan of, Fat Rascal, present a zombie comedy musical that is sure to shake up gender lines as much as apocalyptic survival methods