Misty by Arinzé Kene @The Bush

“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 other creature.” This is how Kene opens his show, with the first track ‘City Creature’. Through this track he sets up London as a living, breathing beast. This concept of life, beats through the piece and aided by other clever performative choices, leads to a visceral truth being a base to the whole show.

Kene has gone out of his way to create a space in which almost every aspect of the performance reinforces that this is a show which stems from truth and reality even when presented in abstract ways.

He has chosen live musicians to accompany his spoken word and songs, instead of a pre-recorded backing track and prefers live video streaming and a dictaphone and live voice overs. He then appears to take the construct of established reality and play with it through the use of  two musicians in the play, introducing them as the characters of Donna and Raymon.

Donna and Raymond are played by real people (the aforementioned musicians) and step on to the stage through the medium of voicemails. However, juxtaposing the norm, Kene has the actors step behind a large gauze board on the stage and read from a script into a microphone to the audience live. The staging depicts a clear divide between Kene and the couple, transmitting an apparent emotional connection even when removed from the reality of the performance. They aren’t faceless voices projected over the auditorium, instead we have real people to connect with and invest in, yet the use of multimedia distorts the lines of reality leading to abstract presentation of truthful life.

As we move through the play he continues along this tight rope of truth and trickery. One point turning his back on the audience, directing a speech to a camera which is projected onto a gauze board for us all to watch. This choice means we have the feeling of overheard conversation and gaining a snapshot into the inner mind yet we realise when the video carries on playing that it was pre recorded after all.

Later he plays direct from a dictaphone into a mic, the original story of his friend on whom the play is based, but as we listen we are all too aware that he’s already fooled us once.

As Matt Truman for What’s On Stage says “He toys with the fictional status of each (story): a dictaphone recording suggests there’s truth in his tale, yet as he fakes his own live performance with video trickery, Kene’s clearly aware of playing himself

We are impressed with his emphasis on live performance with a show that is abstract in its construct with much of the show in spoken word, poetry, comedy, song and rap yet, we never feel that it is removed reality. This is a play speaking very much about the here and now, the problems of today’s society, yet highlighting the fact that it might not be an ‘actual’ story, but questioning if that really matters?

It is a great use of Brecht’s estrangement effect in that regard, as Kene constantly plays with the way in which he tells and shows us his story using multi media and visual art yet not abandoning the connection to the truth. His abstract means to present his issues may appear different yet the issues themselves are not.

He continually establishes, constructs and then breaks them; it’s almost as though we are watching him write a rap on stage. We can imagine him playing around with rhymes, creating word play and beats yet shows the back and forth of inner and outer turmoil he faced in writing this story.

Kaleem Aftab from the Independent describes it as a “Broken reality where nothing is quite what it seems.” This is optimised in the multilayered storytelling. ‘Misty’ isn’t just tackling the issues he presents on stage but also the story of how he came to create the show.

In this over arching story of how he came to write ‘Misty’, Kene gives us an insight into the view by some that he was writing a “N***a play, a modern minstrel show written so it would get into white theatre.” This is another powerful choice from Kene, as undoubtedly there will be people watching this show holding a similar view point, unwilling to have an open discussion about it.

By placing this dialogue on stage he both adds his own view on the narrative yet hands it over to those in the audience, thereby encouraging further discussion of what could have remained unspoken. Though there will be some like Matt Truman who feel “It’s self-indulgent: an artist airing their problems rather than staging a solution”,  I tend to disagree. Theatre is not meant to tell people what to do or how to feel, nor is it there to provide a solution to problems. Theatre is there to hold a mirror up to society, to shine a spotlight on the things that aren’t being given a stage and to create a conversation and that is what Kene’s ‘Misty’ has achieved.

I saw this at the Bush Theatre but its now transferred to the Trafalgar Studio so buy yout tickets NOW!

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