It is an interesting experience to visit a show so long after it has established itself as a ground-breaking hit, especially one that has been talked about as much as Misty. I missed it at the Bush and thought I was catching it at the tail end of its transfer to Trafalgar Studios. Only such has been the public demand for tickets that Misty’s run has been extended into November.
And it is this impact on the audience that hits you most; you can see its influence even before the lights go down. I can’t remember the last time I was amongst the oldest in the audience rather than the youngest. And it is testament to this show’s reach that its audience was a greater balance of ethnic backgrounds than I could even come close to seeing elsewhere.
So, what were they responding to?
Arinzé Kene, of course. The hugely charismatic writer and performer around whom Misty is centred. But the audience has also come to listen to what Arinzé has to say – and how he says it.
With all the plaudits thrown Misty’s way, and the visual images that had accompanied the reviews, I had expected something of a rage against the machine. A righteous anger against racism. And that is there, of course it is. But Misty is a far more complex and nuanced piece than this. It is as delicate as it is furious, and as intimate as it is political. And has at its heart one man’s battle to prove that all black lives matter.
In a two hour lyrical journey, Arinzé weaves two threads together – a story of a black man who gets into an altercation on a night bus which has far-reaching consequences, with a serious of breakouts where friends and family of Arinzé’s berate him for writing a play that feeds into stereotypes of black men and their lives, perpetuating plays about black trauma, and betraying his responsibility to change the narrative.
And this tumultuous cascade of conflict is fused with music and lyrics to create an awesomely electric and powerful piece of theatre. (Can we just get a brief shout here to drummer, Shiloh Coke, who is terrific.)
The audience is putty in Arinzé’s hands. Cheers and applause as the audience respond to his observations are commonplace. This lyrical journey clearly affects so many, which was a privilege to witness. And this support reached its climax with its stomping finale as Arinzé berates and tears apart the ‘urban safari jungle shit’ criticisms.
Yet even when you take into account the pumping adrenalin, the inventive direction from Omar Elerian, and the very clever use of the show’s signature orange balloons, I cannot deny that it is this show’s more reflective moments that will stay with me the longest.
Just who gets to tell the story is a big debate in theatre now but Arinzé takes this further, demanding his right to tell the story that he wants to tell, to throw off the shackles that are placed on black writers especially, and to dramatise that story as he sees fit.
Trafalgar Studios, London, to November 17, 2018.
Tickets from £15.
All production images by Helen Murray.
Writer and Performer: Arinzé Kene
Video Designer: Daniel Denton
Sound Designer: Elena Peña
Lighting Designer: Jackie Shemesh
Director: Omar Elerian
Designer: Rajha Shakiry