Written and performed by Arinzé Kene, Misty blends spoken word, live art, direct address and gig theatre in an attempt to challenge the expectations surrounding the event of storytelling. As an actor, Kene is best known for his role in the BAFTA nominated film The Pass (2016), and has appeared on stage more recently as the boxer Joe Scott in Girl from the North Country and as part of One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse. With two previous writing credits – both gripped by multi-culturalism and oppression – Kene creates an experience driven by rhythm, poetry and the insecurities of one man against the socio-political climate of London in the present-day.
The capital is alive. Two screens appear to meet head-on, the backdrop fashioned out of Sharkstooth Gauze. On either side of the stage, a drum kit and a keyboard are elevated, with musicians Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod breathing at higher narrative altitudes. A naturalistic world and a universe versed in urban grime explode and begin to layer themselves, carefully. There is a sickness underground. There is an illness above ground. The city is collapsing under the weight of ill health – it is weak with a virus, and the disease is spreading rapidly. Gentrification is contagious, small businesses are facing an epidemic, and discrimination is deadly.
Hazy animation sees capillaries soften into car headlights, and then into home in the form of a high-rise block. The use of video creates optical illusions, adding to this fluid, three-dimensional drama with magic that sees Kene split in two. His live body and recorded body explore the different sides of one individual, his memory torn by the presence of a single orange balloon – a device that is consistently met with fiery humour and interactions of the most inventive kind. Speculation surrounding culturally specific theatre and black playwrights is heralded brilliantly by a Little Girl (Mya Napoleon/ Rene Powell), who carries the conversation to the ears of her audience with valiant verbosity. The Stage Manager is also visible throughout, her company used as an instrument of metatheatricality that transports the spectator to and from a state of suspended disbelief.
Kene’s lyricism and awareness of melody melt hungrily into an intelligent 11-track concept album that reveals an internal key to his external reality. As music pours from his body of bodies, cries of support emerge from the playgoers. Jagged electronic sounds and rap pulsate through veins, jumping into blue, carrying his message straight to the heart. Misty is powerful – its combination of personal experience and fiction encourages the public to question their version of England, the risk of moving forward bursting into the fore as ochre rings like a gunshot. Plastic and oxygen protest against the hot air of democracy, giving way to pain, inequality and a cry for change. Kene has fully utilised the potential of the theatre, and it is truly a performance to behold.
Misty is playing at the Shepherds Bush Theatre until April 21 2018
Photo: Helen Murray