Cultural Highlight 2018 – AOB Director’s View

“Misty” @ Trafalgar Studios, 22nd September 2018 
as submitted by Dej Mahoney to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Review’

I’ve seen some spectacular stuff this year – from “Network” at The National (featuring a mind-blown turn from the Olivier Award-winning Bryan Cranston), to the astonishing “Picasso 1932” at Tate Modern, to Kwame Kwei-Armah’s carnival of a “Twelfth Night” at the Young Vic. But nothing has lingered as long in the mind as “Misty”, written and performed by Arinzé Kene at Trafalgar Studios (previously at The Bush). 

“Misty” is a nearly-one-man show, featuring some exquisite cameos – notably by the protagonist’s admonishing ‘big sister’; a role disarmingly played by a bookish, little girl. The professional critics have been unanimous in recognising Kene’s charisma, but that is to damn his gift as writer, actor, singer and all-round performer with only partial praise. “Misty” is the most flavoursome, storytelling stir-fry of urban life, served up by one chilli-hot chef. Whilst the show’s title is never explained, it is a deeply engaging, sometimes dark, often funny, biographical rollercoaster-ride through a city portrayed as a giant organism. The slow explosion of orange balloons on stage conveys a sense of London at an unsettled cellular level, while also referencing our hero’s disturbed state of mind and that of his mate, Lucas, who once got on a night bus… 

“Misty” plays the dangerous game of exploring stereotypes with an absurdist I can out-Tarantino Tarantino lyrical bravado, but was Kene drawing deeper conclusions or making more profound points that went over my head? I don’t know; I did, however, appreciate the games he played with reality and truth vs. perception. The coolly sparse musical sound-bed (synth, ‘live’ drums and bass) also deserves a special note: sometimes propulsive and urgent, other times echoing the menacing undertones of the city’s more shadowy corners; it is always apposite accompaniment for the onstage antics of Arinzé. 

This was a truly extraordinary experience, to be offered as the tastiest appetiser for city-dwellers who don’t consider themselves to be theatre-goers. Kene is a fast-rising star with much more bright-shining ahead of him. On the evidence of the occasional self-indulgence in “Misty” (at least, earlier on in its run), future collaborators and directors may need to ensure that his prodigious talent does not dazzle their editorial eyes, in the same way that it does his audiences’.