I’ve now seen Misty a total of four times (once, to my eternal smugness, at the Bush Theatre, and thrice at Trafalgar Studios), but have yet to write anything about it. I so wanted to review it, but if you’ve seen it then you’ll know what an undertaking that could be! Its groundbreaking, genre-bending nature defies description and makes it difficult to pin down. It’s a bit like a gig, but also like a couple of plays within a play; it’s personal, political, playful – and as hysterical as it is theatrical. There’s so much going on, but it’s still pretty straightforward really.
Arinzé Kene (who wrote it and stars in it) is engaging from the instant he walks onstage and starts talking about the night bus, and holds the audience’s rapt attention until he finishes freestyling Jungle Shit at the very end of the show. What makes it so tempting to go back and watch again & again lies mostly in his performance – because it doesn’t feel like one. It genuinely feels like he’s just coming up with it on the spot; there is some ad libbing (provoked by audience reaction or assistant stage manager Hanne Schulpe’s attempts at chucking water balloons at him), and I’m sure the odd bit must have developed a bit since I first saw it at the Bush in April.
Fluidity & flexibility in performance is something I really admire, and much prefer to see – to me there’s no point in putting on carbon copy performances night after night, as it becomes soulless and nowhere near as natural.
Whilst Misty is perhaps an unlikely candidate for a West End transfer, given the inability to put it in any sort of box, it’s incredible that it did make the leap and has done so well in its second home – the demand was so high that an additional month was added to its run (I think extra performances were scheduled at the Bush too), there have been several post-show Q&As, and an understudy performance has even been announced. Tomorrow afternoon, Kibong Tanji will take on the role and the audience will get the chance to see ‘Arinzé’ being played by a woman – I’m absolutely gutted that this clashes with work, as I’m fascinated to know what the differences & similarities in performance that will come through.
I’m also still bewildered that Kene is only the second black playwright to have a play in London’s West End… Though in many ways it’s not at all surprising, it still doesn’t feel like that’s correct – that shows how far Theatreland still has to go to catch up with its ideals, I suppose. (Funnily enough, Natasha Gordon will become the third in this list – and the first black British female playwright to have a play in the West End – when Nine Night succeeds Misty at Trafalgar Studios.)
By getting it to the West End it definitely ensures that an incredibly diverse audience is able to see it; looking round the theatre tonight, there was a great range of ages, ethnicities – and fashion choices (I’m mostly thinking of the middle-aged woman in a beret and tweed jacket). The clever thing about Misty is that it gets the Blood Cell/Virus story across, but without being all about that particular strand – so it gets people thinking about gentrification & discrimination, as well as exploring other avenues.
One of my favourite things about this show is the gig element, which brings into play a pair of brilliant onstage musicians (who also play Donna & Raymond in a few scenes); MD Shiloh Coke particularly draws my attention, with her instinctive & dynamic drumming that underpins the whole piece. It pounds out like a heartbeat and cranks up the tension in the Blood Cell/Virus storyline, combining well with Adrian McLeod’s keyboard work.
Misty is definitely one of those shows that I have to throw the ‘inspirational’ label at – everything about it makes me want to get out there and be both creative & political – and to top it all off, it’s just a bloody good way to spend an evening. It is so much fun to watch (a grown man trying to eat his way out of a balloon will never get old), and a joy to listen to. I’m keeping everything crossed that a recording of some kind will eventually be released, as the music is as catchy as anything; Audible has previously released audio versions of plays, so maybe that could even be the way to go (which would get us the whole package).
There is just over a week left for you to go and see what all the fuss is about, however, so I suggest you do that first – and thank me afterwards.