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Kanye the First review, HighTide Festival, Walthamstow – ‘brilliant, but trips over’

Kanye the First Imogen Doel, Caroline Faber and Daniel Francis-Swaby in Kanye the First. Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown
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What if you woke up one day and everyone thought you were hip-hop artist Kanye West? That’s the sky-high concept behind the new play from Sam Steiner, writer of the ingenious Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons.

Kanye the First is Steiner’s first commissioned work and one of two world premieres at this year’s HighTide Festival, playing alongside Nessah Muthy’s Heroine.

Imogen Doel is effortlessly hilarious as Annie, bewildered because her sister and ill mother no longer recognise her and the rest of the world deifies her as a latter-day messiah (because, here, Kanye has just died).

Photo: Alex Harvey Brown

Steiner’s dialogue is often stingingly funny as Caroline Faber, Daniel Francis-Swaby and Keziah Joseph abruptly shift between Annie’s family and different people, including Kim Kardashian, Kanye’s wife. Their faces begin to blur to Annie as she gets lost in Kanye.

This play fizzes with ideas. Steiner uses the totemic figure of Kanye – the defiant swagger of his hyper-realised public persona – to explore everything from cultural appropriation and the narcissism of fandom to identity politics and social media celebrity.

But this ever-expanding sprawl of themes works against the play’s clarity, amplified by the staccato pacing of Andrew Twyman’s production. When Caroline Faber’s Mother picks up a mic to reclaim her life from Annie’s story, it’s another new thread left to dangle.

This play ultimately feels as unsure of its identity as Annie does, as her life falls away. It packs too much in. There are brilliant moments among the seeds of about a dozen different plays. They lack space to grow here.

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A fun, wildly imaginative new play that trips over its glut of ideas