Misty, originally staged at the Bush Theatre, has made its West End debut at Trafalgar Studios, and if you didn’t get to see it its first-time round, you should absolutely try your utmost to see it now.
Arinzé Kene’s show, directed by Omar Elerian, is subversive and metatheatrical. Broken into two parts presented interchangeably, the audience is told the story that lies at the narrative heart of the show whilst also experiencing stage version of Arinzé’s journey of writing and telling said story.
Arinzé battles through his creative process as he attempts to tell a story of Blackness while fighting the accusation from his friends, Donna and Raymond, that he’s written “a nigga play”. By telling the story of another friend who got into a fight on the night bus, Donna and Raymond (played by onstage musicians, Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod) believe he’s sold out to peddle an altogether too often told story of Black pain: their issue being that the truth of the story doesn’t help those whose truth it actually is; Arinzé’s argument is that he just wants to see people like his friend, people like him, represented onstage. On top of that, he also deals with his older sister’s disappointment in the way he has approached his work. His struggle with the desire to satisfy those close to him while also remaining true to the portrayal of his friend without alienating the rest of his Black community, is apparent through every stage of the show: through the script and visually. A motif centred around an orange balloon is interweaved beautifully throughout.
Kene gives an all but Herculean performance, onstage for its entirety (not including the interval) and dripping with sweat and pure talent. He blends poetry in the form of rap and spoken word with engaging storytelling and tops it off with a gorgeous singing voice. He blends sultry vocals with punchy diction. He blends hilarious comedy with jaw-dropping, heart-stopping drama. He blends joy and love with pain and suffering. The show even blends the maturity of age with the innocence of youth, compressing all the experience and societal insight, that comes with being an adult Black woman, that Arinzé’s older sister has into the young Sedonna Henok.
With Misty, Kene takes the allegations that he has written “urban safari jungle shit” and obliterates them. He redefines theatre, treating the audience to his honestly told “featre shit”, because where he comes from, they “say theatre like featre”. It’s spectacular in its honesty and eloquent in its rage; textured in its emotionality; and polished in its rawness. Rajha Shakiry’s design combined with Daniel Denton’s video design, creates an artistic version of the urban landscape created by Kene’s words. In fact, everything works in perfect harmony: the overall design; Coke and McLeod’s live musical accompaniment; Elerian’s skilful direction; and Kene’s explosive performance.
Very rarely do I ever come across a show that fills me with so much to say whilst simultaneously rendering me speechless. Misty is intelligent, visceral and incredibly powerful in every one of its aspects: so seamlessly performed whilst retaining its realness. It is the kind of theatre that is so deeply necessary and so thoroughly encompassing. Everyone should see this show.
Misty is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 20 October 2018. For more information and tickets, see here.