London Culture | Misty Theatre Review

London Culture | Misty Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘Misty’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

I had tickets to see Misty last Friday at Trafalgar Studios, so I invited a friend along to see it with me. I’d heard rave reviews about Misty, which has opened in the West End following its sell-out success at the Bush Theatre, so I was looking forward to the evening.

Shockingly, Misty is apparently only the second play written by a black playwright ever to have been produced in the West End. It’s essentially a one man show, written and performed by Arinzé Kene. What struck me most forcibly about Misty was the sheer power of Kene’s performance; he seems to give the show every part of his soul, as well as his considerable physical energy. I was awed by the sheer stamina of such a performance, which sees Kene singing, rapping, raging, crooning, wrestling with giant balloons, playing multiple characters and displaying a surprising knack for physical comedy. The play is a curious mix of gig-theatre and performance art, and it’s a credit to Kene’s talent that he manages to pull it off so convincingly.

London Culture | Misty Theatre ReviewArinzé Kene in Misty. Image © Helen Murray.

Misty is structured as a play within a play:  Kene is writing a play that exposes the social and racial prejudices that he witnesses in modern day London. But his rap about a confrontation gone wrong on a London bus is interrupted by some of his friends. They don’t like the play.  You’re selling out, they chastise him, creating content that feeds to the ‘angry black man’ stereotype that white people expect to see. His play is nothing but ‘a modern minstrel show,’ they cry in disappointment.  Kene argues that he has the right to tell whatever story he wants to tell; he speaks eloquently on the importance of being able to simply make art, to speak the truth as he sees it, as he’s experienced it. Why can’t his story just be a story? Why must it be labelled before the ink of creation is even dry?

If more plays were put on like the one he’s writing, Kene argues, then he’d go to the theatre more often. ‘Who gives a f*** about Shakespeare?’, he jeers, hammering home the point that much of what is shown in West End theatre falls short of representing  a wider audience. And yet, Kene also seems to play some homage to Shakespeare, with his use of the mise-en-abyme technique, that brings Hamlet  to mind. And just as Hamlet soliloquises on the deeper questions of life, so does Kene reflect on what it means to be an artist, specifically a black artist. It’s clear, too, that Kene shares with Shakespeare a love for word play. His lengthy monologues are superb, often nothing short of poetic, and they morph into song, into rap, into lyrical speech with expert ease. Kene’s aim may be to subvert and justly challenge the traditional theatre scene, but he shows how inspiration may be drawn from many sources, both traditional and non-traditional, to create drama that speaks of the moment.

London Culture | Misty Theatre ReviewArinzé Kene in Misty. Image © Helen Murray.

Along with the script, I was also impressed by the staging of Misty. For a minimal set, there was brilliant use of audio and video recordings and dramatic lighting to add interest and further dimension to Kene’s performance. Balloons are used as a powerful visual motif throughout the play: Kene blows up a balloon and then watches it deflate, like his ego, crumpling under criticism. At one point, he becomes trapped within a gigantic balloon, struggling to escape, just as he battles with the questions – what kind of play should he write? And how should it end?

Although, as I said, Misty is essentially a one man show, credit must go to Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod who play the drums and keys throughout the play, as well as taking to the stage for their parts as Kene’s friends. Coke and McLeod delivered their lines with a subtle humour that sparked a great deal of appreciation from the audience, and I thought Shiloh Coke’s performance was especially memorable.

Misty is an exciting, thought-provoking play that makes for a memorable night out. It’s showing until 20th October, and tickets may be purchased here.

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