Trafalgar Studios, Studio 1, London *****
Review of performance seen Sept 13, 2018:

© Helen Murray, Mya-Napolean as his young sister, Arinze-Kené writing, being an artist - ain't easy...

© Helen Murray, Mya-Napolean as his young sister, Arinze-Kené writing, being an artist – ain’t easy…

Sometimes you just know you’ve seen the future. I missed seeing Misty at the Bush. I can only imagine that for once, the transfer has settled it into an even better, more appropriate venue. For this mostly solo tour de force and `force of nature’ as he has already been dubbed expands to fill the larger Trafalgar Studios space as if built for it.

This is our London, mixed, vibrant, young and to sit in the audience last night and experience the general buzz was to feel that, at last, some progress has been made. I’m sure the feeling is repeated many times in theatres up and down the land. But especially last night, with the charisma of Arinzé Kene and the material and style in which he performs his show declares London a mixed, equal, multi-cultural city.

I know there’s a long way to go and the frustration felt by Kene is palpable. His rapping, poetic, angry prose/verse script throbs and pulsates with fury at the racial discrimination forced by the colour of your skin.

© Helen Murray, Arinze-Kené, with musicians, Adrian-McLeod-and-Shiloh-Coke

© Helen Murray, Arinze-Kené, with musicians, Adrian-McLeod-and-Shiloh-Coke

What is `black’ he asks in his eloquent programme note? `Black’ has been used for decades by lazy critics and commentators. In fact, I remember at City Limits in the mid-80’s we became acutely aware of its malpractice in terms of using the adjective to a play, film or whatever. We strove to eradicate it from our copy substituting it, if we could, for `gallows humour’, `macabre’ or whatever other synonym we could find.

So Misty is in part a consciousness-raiser but much, much more than that, it is an amazing piece of art, linguistically, physically, visually, politically, culturally.

Two musicians, Adrian McLeod on keyboard and the amazing Shiloh Coke on drums and percussion, create a pageant of sound that accompanies, highlights, heightens every word Kene utters like some acoustic sound chamber.

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene, hitting a high note, hum...reaching a crescendo

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene, hitting a high note, hum…reaching a crescendo

It reaches an apogee at the end of the first half when Kene goes into a floating high-note arch of sound that soars and soars while Coke raises the percussive tempo faster and faster. It is mesmerising – as is the picture Kene paints of himself as an artist, trying to write this play and the reactions he gets from friends, family – his young sister, Rene Powell last night, independent-minded and quite intimidating – agent and producer, invoked brilliantly by means of lighting, props and an over-voice.

As a portrait of latter-day modern London living, it is filled with poignancy and grime like descriptions of riding the night bus (do not get into a fight on the night bus, he cautions amongst other things); finding a girl-friend who, horrifically, has given birth on the street but wants nothing to do with it. But overwhelmingly, It is the story of creativity thwarted but bursting out, refusing to be dimmed or discounted.

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene, beany hatted, out on the London streets...

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene, beany hatted, out on the London streets…

And Bush’s Associate Director, Omar Elerian’s matches Arinzés vision with a production that dazzles by its invention, sensitivity and artistic quality.

It comes to us in the form of short scenes, playfulness (including a mass of orange balloons and a giant circular orange ball into and out of which he wrestles to emerge) and a stunning visual backdrop of video projected scene scapes that constantly pull us into Kene’s world – if his own electrifying presence and text weren’t already taking us to new places.

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene confronting existential matter - viruses/blood cells. Who is the real virus; white or black?

© Helen Murray, Arinze Kene confronting existential matter – viruses/blood cells. Who is the real virus; white or black?

Perhaps the most striking thing about all of this, too, is the metaphor Arinzé has chosen to describe how white superiority divides and exploits `difference’. The city, he explains is a living organism. And like a living organism, there are blood cells and there are `viruses’ that constantly attempt to invade those healthy blood cells.

But who, by the end, Misty questions, is the virus and who the healthy blood cell?

It’s an extraordinary vision, in style, content and performance. I may also be a little late realising what a talent is Arinzé Kene. He has been recognised already as a `Most Promising Playwright’ (Ovalhouse, as ever, unheralded but sharp in catching the zeitgeist, presented one of his early plays), has films in the pipeline and is in demand everywhere as an actor (the Donmar’s One Night in Miami, Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic and, upcoming, opposite Michaela Cole in Netflix’s Been So Long, originally at the Young Vic).

I can only say seeing Misty last night in the Trafalgar Studios gave me one of the most thrilling nights I’ve spent in the theatre for a long time. Please don’t miss.

It runs to Oct 20.

By Arinzé Kene

Performer: Arinzé Kene
Musicians: Shiloh Coke, Adrian McLeod
Little Girl: Sedonna Henok, Mya Napoleon, Rene Powell

Understudy to Arinzé Kene: Kibong Tanji
Understudy Musician: Chloe Rianna 

Director: Omar Elerian
Designer: Rajha Shakiry
Lighting Designer: Jackie Shemesh
Sound Designer: Elena Peña
Video Designer: Daniel Denton
Musical Directors: Shiloh Coke, Adrian McLeod
Dramaturgs: Kirsty Housley, Stewart Pringle
Movement Director: Rachael Nanyonjo
Understudy Casting Director: Ellie Collyer-Bristow CDG
Sound Associate: Richard Bell
Costume Supervisor: Flora Moyes

Producers: Daniel Brodie & Matt Parritt

A Bush Theatre production first commissioned by them and opened at the Bush Theatre, March 15, 2018.

First perf of this transferred production at Trafalgar Studios, London, Sept 8, 2018. Runs to Oct 20, 2018

Presented by Trafalgar Theatre Productions, Jonathan Church Productions, Eilene Davidson and Audible in association with Island Records.

Runs: 2hrs with interval
TICKETS: 0844 871 7632

Review published on this site, Sept 14, 2018