Never before have the politics of identity demanded a spotlight in the media as they do today. Whilst this is an undoubtedly revelatory and welcome change to western society at large, room for the grey and blurred aspects of our inner selves must be made. Arinze Kené’s searing one man show makes an admirable attempt to remind us of this point.
Misty is a layered performance. Initially presented as a musical narrative describing the harrowing downfall of an emotionally vulnerable East Londoner, the play is paused intermittently to give Kené the chance to address the audience directly and speak of his internal and external conflicts, largely in relation to identity, during the writing of the play. We soon see that these pauses form the ‘real play’ and it is certainly here where the emotional weight of the performance comes through. You will whoop during monologues on gentrification, feel tense as his cranial writhing is displayed physically and become introspective as he ponders on his casting as a ‘black playwright’.
During the main narrative, spoken word/rap guides us through London as the ‘city creature’. This is a living being we are told. A living being where the ‘blood cells’ and ‘viruses’ (read: white/black, resident/gentrifier, insider/outsider) disrupt one another lives. This notion of blood cells and viruses is a clever device employed by Kené that gives him room to switch the play’s tearing focus from identity to gentrification. Questions of who has the power to define space, black trauma, notions of insiders and outsiders as well as who is in the position to frame such questions are all either directly addressed or hinted at. A moment must also be taken to pause and applaud the music of Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod that accompanies Kené’s witty, lyrical rhymes. Their jazz-rap tones and accomplished live performances bring life to London as ‘living creature’.
Kené ‘just wanted to write a play’. He didn’t want it to be an ‘urban jungle safari’ but equally he does not see why he has to answer questions on whether it is one. Why must his role as a playwright be framed in terms of his identity and skin colour? He does not want it to be a complete political condemnation of gentrification, yet he wants to present his frustration that where he once had local culture and small business, he now has fancy coffees and arty students. The room for nuance that Kené claims for himself, simply by presenting himself as he is, proves refreshing in the age of political extrema. This being said, at times, particularly when tackling gentrification, there is certainly more to be said than the Hackney resident manages to fit in during his 2 hours.
Ultimately this is an uplifting play presenting Kené as his honest self: a complex, talented young playwright who can rap, sing and write. A testament to nuance and Kené’s talents, Misty is a rousing performance that will have you humming a tune and pondering societal issues as you leave the theatre.