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Review: Misty at Trafalgar Studios, London

Arinze Kené , Adrian McLeod and Shiloh Coke in Misty by Arinze Kené at the Bush Theatre - Credit Helen Murray
Arinze Kené , Adrian McLeod and Shiloh Coke in Misty by Arinze Kené at the Bush Theatre – Credit Helen Murray

There’s a lovely preface in the Misty programme that explores the concept of what some people would call a ‘black play’, before deconstructing such a notion: after all, a play is a play is a play. In the show proper, there’s a subplot about Arinzé Kene’s battles with getting his play finished – in the writing process, “apparently” (his choice of word, not mine) there were too many people saying he ought to do X or Y, when all he wanted to do was – well, tell a story, a series of events that happened to fictitious characters, told in an engaging and entertaining way, that would hopefully send audiences away thinking, ‘Yes, that was a nice evening.’

Much has been made in recent years, with justification, about actors as musicians. But the musician as an actor is definitely becoming more commonplace in the London theatre scene too. Here, Donna (Shiloh Coke, stepping away from the drum kit) brings the house down with an exposition about how white writers and audiences still hold huge sway over the box office success – or otherwise – of films the heavily feature black people. “We never get a cycling-through-the-city montage in films.” She, and Kene, and the show, all have a point – it is rare to come across a film or a play that features black people just getting on with life. There always has to be some Great Big Thing going on, a triumph over adversity narrative.

Other ‘truth be told’ moments got the audience audibly responding affirmatively, and yet the show, for all its realism and resonance with Londoners (and dwellers of other urban spaces), indulges in the abstract as well as the real world – orange balloons feature heavily, and not for the purposes of supplying Sainsbury’s or Easyjet with some free publicity. Although Kene is the sole ‘performer’ as per the cast list, he is assisted by the aforementioned Coke and by Adrian McLeod, on keyboards and playing a minor character or two. The rather unimaginatively named Little Girl is shared between Sedonna Henok, Mya Napolean and Rene Powell. The script occasionally calls for a ‘random audience member’ to assist with proceedings: here, this function is performed by the Assistant Stage Manager, listed in the programme as Hanne Schulpé.

The sound (Elena Peña) is very well balanced, and never uncomfortably loud. This isn’t the sort of music that would – at least not ordinarily – find its way onto the playlists of Encore Radio or the BBC’s ‘Elaine Paige on Sunday’. But it is, for the most part, a driving and lively beat, and if there are Pinteresque pauses in the show (and there are), this gives the audience an opportunity to catch its breath from the intensity of the scene just performed.

The way Kene does it, though, is to make the audience feel as though the breaks in the show, when the music and the projections take over, is to give him a rest as much as anyone else in the theatre, which I thought was fair enough, given the vibrancy and energy of the production. I’ve tried to understand what the significance of quite so many balloons on stage was – as Kene bounces around popping them, it’s a demonstration (at least to me) of the fragility of life, and how hopes and ambitions can suddenly, without warning, burst.

Yes, it’s more than a tad self-indulgent. But there are some very intriguing ideas introduced – I liked one about gentrification being a form of contemporary colonisation (why can’t people just walk into a café and order a coffee without having to consult a menu?), and if there are no straightforward solutions presented to the problems being articulated, there’s nothing wrong with letting audiences ponder on such matters for themselves. A raw, powerful and memorable production.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Through a blend of theatre, gig and performance poetry, Arinzé delivers an epic, heartfelt and playful exploration of creative freedom, set against a pulsating vision of modern London.

Misty is directed by Bush Theatre Associate Director Omar Elerian (NASSIM, One Cold Dark Night, Islands) and features an original musical score performed live during the show.

Here is the city that we live in
Notice that the city that we live in is alive
Analyse our city and you’ll find that our city even has bodily features
Our city’s organs function like any living creature
Our city is a living creature
And if you’re wise enough, you’ll know not all of us are blood cells…
Some of us are viruses.

Trafalgar Theatre Productions and Jonathan Church Productions present the Bush Theatre production of

MISTY by Arinzé Kene
Directed by Omar Elerian
Designed by Rajha Shakiry
Dramaturgy by Kirsty Housely
Sound design by Elena Peña
Lighting design by Jackie Shemesh
Video design by Daniel Denton

Performed by Arinzé Kene
MD / Musicians – Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod
Little Girl – Mya Napoleon / Rene Powell

8 September – 20 October 2018
at Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2DY

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