Misty review at the Bush Theatre, London – ‘intelligent and interrogative’

Arinze Kene in Misty at Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Arinze Kene in Misty at Bush Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Arinze Kene launches into a story about a fight on a night bus. His performance is physically and vocally rich, words rattling from him, as musicians Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod, on either side of the stage, provide back up.

This is gig theatre, pulsing and potent, with Kene painting a picture of the city is a body, its inhabitants blood cells under attack. But then he stops.

Coke and McLeod, doubling as Kene’s friends, chastise him for pandering to an audience “that doesn’t look like us” by writing an ‘urban play’ with black trauma at its heart. Producers and agents wade into the debate, tugging Kene in different directions.

On the one hand, Misty is a piece of theatre about making theatre but Russian dolled within this there’s a lot thinking about the kind of stories that get told on our stages, who gets to tell them, why, and for whom, all filtered through the lens of a black male writer and performer. Questions nest within questions. Performative layers fall away as Kene bends the production back on itself, arguing the worth and value of seeing your lived experience up on stage.

This process of interrogation is imaginatively represented in Omar Elerian’s rigorous, intelligent production by a series of orange balloons. They keep popping up. They engulf Kene, and in one stunning moment they colonise Rajha Shakiry’s set.

He covers a lot of ground, probably too much for one piece – representation, gentrification, the messy intersection of the two, police brutality, Black Lives Matter.

In its best moments Misty is at once a polemic, an essay and a poem, and as he proved in One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, Kene is a captivating performer – spectacularly charismatic even when all but obscured by orange latex.

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Arinze Kene’s layered, kinetic solo show exploring the relationship between black lives and black art