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

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

Misty begins with Arinze Kene launching 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, sitting on either side of the stage, provide percussive back up.

It looks like we’re watching a piece of gig theatre. Kene’s performance is pulsing and potent as he paints a picture of the city as a body and its inhabitants as blood cells under attack. But, just as he’s really getting in to it, really hitting his stride, he stops.

Kene’s friends – also played by Coke and McLeod – chastise him for pandering to an audience “that doesn’t look like us.” They think he’s written yet another ‘urban play’ with black trauma at its heart. Producers and agents wade into the debate. Everyone has an opinion. Kene, the writer, ends up tugged in several different directions at once.

Misty is, on one level, a piece of theatre about making a piece of theatre, but it has many other layers Russian dolled within it. It’s a formally adventurous, metatheatrical exploration on 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. Kene bends the production back on itself as he argues the worth and value of seeing your lived experience up on stage.

Omar Elerian’s rigorous, intelligent production uses a series of orange balloons to embody this complexity. Balloons keep popping up. They engulf Kene – in one scene he’s all but swallowed by one. In another stunning moment they colonise Rajha Shakiry’s set.

Misty covers a lot of thematic ground, probably too much for one piece. Kene grapples with race, representation, gentrification, the messy intersection of the two, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

At its best it comes across as a fusion of polemic, essay and poem powerfully performed by Kene, who as  he proved in One Night in Miami and Girl from the North Country, is a captivating stage presence, spectacularly charismatic even when encased in orange latex.

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