Tag Archives: Arinzé Kene

“Misty” at the Trafalgar Studios

There are two sides to Arinzé Kene’s hit transfer from the Bush Theatre. It’s the story of a young criminal who attacks someone on a night bus. And it’s the story of Kene himself, writing the show and defending his art. While one character is on the run from the police and ruminating about the home he may be forced to leave, our author is questioning whether his story perpetuates stereotypes and angry at the responsibility writers of colour are burdened with. Mixing the stories together makes for an original work whose rave reviews testify to its popularity.

The show’s novelty, all the more impressive now that it’s in the West End, is to combine songs, poetry and spoken word. It’s called ‘gig theatre’, and director Omar Elerian deserves praise here, as it would be easy to feel lost. And designer Rajha Shakiry, working with lighting and video from Jackie Shemesh and Daniel Denton respectively, produces visuals worthy of any art gallery. Along with the singing and acting skills of Kene himself, there’s a suspicion that performance and production are slightly better than the play. No matter, as the show works superbly.

Misty is unmissable for its central performance: Kene has real star quality. This isn’t a one-man show, and there’s strong support from musicians Adrian McLeod and Shiloh Coke, who also appear as friends of the playwright. And a superb role for a child actor as Kene’s older sister (not sure why). But all eyes are on Kene and there’s seemingly nothing he can’t do, whether cry or laugh. His physicality is remarkable and his singing voice unique.

Back to that parallel narrative – the making of the play and the story itself. My preference was for the simpler. The tale of Kene’s intriguing friend is moving, in particular scenes imagined with his sister. When it comes to the process of making the play, the issues raised are valid and important. But that this introspection becomes anguished and intrusive – which is part of the point – is nonetheless frustrating. The traditional narrative could be developed so easily – omitted details are much needed – and it would have been great to see more. But that’s another demand on the writer, hopefully sincerely motivated on my part. Kene’s point is about artistic freedom and, given the achievement here, it’s difficult to argue with him.

Until 20 October 2018


Photo by Helen Murray.

“One Night In Miami…” at the Donmar Warehouse

Kemp Powers’ play touches on the depressingly topical struggle against racism with calm sophistication. Placing four iconic African-Americans of the 1960s in one hotel room – each of them at a pivotal moment in their lives and with the US on the brink of change – it’s a brilliantly simple and effective device to examine individual legacies and question how much progress has been made regarding civil rights.

Francois Battiste as Malcolm X.
Francois Battiste as Malcolm X.

Fresh from winning his fight against Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay is about to become Muhammad Ali. Sope Dirisu gives a show-stealing peformance conveying the young man’s charm and naiveté. Clay is meeting with his mentor Malcolm X, performed by Francois Battiste with control and precision. The activist is keen on claiming prize conversions to Islam but political troubles are the tense undertone, as the bodyguards outside the door remind us.

The two are joined by football star Jim Brown and legendary musician Sam Cooke. Both are secular, independent thinkers, about to branch out into acting and political song writing, respectively. David Ajala plays Brown, easily carrying complex arguments with a deft touch of down-to-earth humour. Arinzé Kene takes the part of Cooke, conveying a fierce articulacy and with a few snatches of singing that display an exceptional voice.

Director Kwame Kwei-Armah knows what a treasure this script is and paces it judiciously, treating it with respect. The relationships are woven like an intricate dance. Tempers flare but the friendship here is firm, providing a realistically casual tone with plenty of banter. Ideas come to the fore, with a streak of melancholy around “self destructive dreams” that endanger all four. With race, politics and religion all linked with questions of celebrity and influence, this is an articulate, intelligent and educative night to remember.

Until 3 December 2016


Photos by Johan Persson