Misty doesn’t claim anything other than to exist. Every story deserves to be told and Arinzé Kene’s is one of a virus invasion, gentrification or modern-day colonisation.

To call Arinzé Kene’s show raw would be crass. Raw implies that it hits on an uncomfortable truth, one which may be difficult to swallow, without allowing for a sympathetic response. But Misty addresses its subject matter within the performance – Kene frequently breaks the act of staging his “angry black man” play to confront opinions. They come from within and without, from friends and family who take him to task for perpetuating an unfair stereotype, the idea that the only story he can tell happens to be one of violence and anger. Those that disapprove name it a “modern minstrel show”.

Misty Bush Theatre

Arinzé Kene (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

But why can’t Kene tell a story without having to make a statement? Why is he automatically judged by the need to break a mould, or the need to fit a mould, or even to acknowledge that the mould exists? Why can’t he just get to the end of his tale without anyone telling him what to write or what not to write? Misty throws both stereotype and anti-stereotype back in our faces, two fingers up to the idea that it has to be anything other than its own reality.

The spoken word picture in this piece of visceral gig theatre is of the city creature, one in which viruses and blood cells exist in constant battle. But who is who – who are the viruses, the ones that are set on bringing the beast of London to its knees; who are the blood cells, the ones that give blood, heart and soul to this metaphysically sentient being? Daniel Denton’s exquisite projections bring into sharp focus the monolithic animal that is our capital, a constant backdrop to reinforce Kene as he spits out powerful verses and melodies that reach soaring emotional heights.

Misty Bush Theatre

Arinzé Kene (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

It’s the slick transitions in Omar Elerian’s direction that impress here – Kene switches from in-show to after-show response fluidly and instantaneously, supported by Jackie Shemesh’s directional lighting that deftly highlights the atmosphere and tension inherent in Misty. As we switch from foreground performance to background commentary, it’s hard not to take on the feedback that permeates from behind Rajha Shakiry’s screening design. The criticism is itself shielded from Kene’s energy, as well as from Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod’s driving musical accompaniment. From behind its protective position, it forces Kene to retreat, to acquiesce. The powerful metaphor of assessment without retort stands out like a sore thumb.

Misty toys with its own duality, at times straying into a meta-concept that adds little to the performance but detracts from the reality of its message. Orange balloons are ever-present with little prescience until the end, when their purpose is revealed as an afterthought. The anti-conclusion is both clever and confused – it doesn’t profess to tie everything up in a neat little bow, but likewise the perplexity of whether the narrative is grounded in fact or fiction lacks a sufficiently concrete impact.

Misty Bush Theatre

Arinzé Kene (image courtesy of Helen Murray)

But Misty doesn’t claim to be impactful. It doesn’t claim anything other than to exist. Every story deserves to be told and Kene’s is one of a virus invasion, gentrification or modern-day colonisation. With a delivery that perfectly judges both pace and comedy, Kene powerfully reminds us that we can’t fuck with the truth – the balloon explodes, and we are left with our ears intensely ringing.

 

 

★★★★☆

Misty runs at the Bush Theatre until 21 April 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.