City Lights by Sophie Galustian- Aktualise Theatre

Aktualise theatre company recently launched their first Scratch Night in London. All ten performances on the night were creative and entertaining, but Sophie Galustian’s ‘City Lights’ was one of the stand-outs of the evening. ‘City Lights’ is a spoken word piece about the sexual harassment of queer women in public spaces, based on a true story, written and performed by Galustian.

The piece recounts a night time stroll along the Thames, with rhythm and rhyme mimicking the pace of the imagined couple, sweeping the audience along with them. Galustian captures the audience’s attention immediately with her confident delivery. The rhymes serve as a tantalising and satisfying hook, anchoring the viewer to and investing them in the narrative as it develops. The genius of the piece lies in its dual perspectives. Although we begin with the personal voice of Galustian recounting a romantic evening out with her girlfriend, there is swiftly a switch to the voice of the male onlooker, who spoils that evening with his thoughtless catcalling. The remainder of the performance switches between these two first-person perspectives, creating a powerful commentary on ignorance, homophobia and its consequences. The full impact of these switches is only possible due to Galustian’s impressive stage presence; by changing stance and accent, she successfully evokes each character without a single costume or lighting change.

Following the attack of two queer women on a Camden bus earlier this year, which spurred a wider discussion of the intersections of misogyny and homophobia, ‘City Lights’ feels highly relevant right now. Lesbianism is routinely connected with pornography in our society, as seen by Google’s recent decision to alter their algorithm for the search result ‘lesbian’ to exclude porn sites. Galustian captures the everyday consequences of this warped portrayal through her writing of the male voice: “I feel as though I’ve seen them in something before, I can’t remember the title”; “they want to tease us”. It is rare to hear the direct perspective of the aggressor, and even more so to hear it from the mouth of the woman harassed. ‘City Lights’ is confronting: it forces the audience to experience the discomfort of the man’s thoughts, whilst also exploring the ignorance and stereotypes which underscore his homophobic notions. That is not to say that it is sympathetic to the harasser, but rather that the writing encourages us to look beyond the individual and consider the societal inequalities which create and endorse such prejudice. 

Some sections from the personal perspective of Galustian run the danger of falling into cliché, with the rhymes becoming predictable at times and the point becoming a little too laboured, causing it to lose some of the pace towards the end. Nonetheless, ‘City Lights’ is an insightful, emotive and punchy piece, performed with charisma and showing serious potential. I hope we will see more from Galustian soon.

If you would like to hear more about Sophie Galustian and her upcoming shows, you can follow her on Twitter @SophGalustian

GUEST REVIEWER: Claudia Graham

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