He’s the man behind the show that is currently taking the West End by storm: From The Box Office chatted with Misty writer and star Arinzé Kene about the success of the show, diversity in the West End and what we can expect from him next… Read his answers below.
Misty opened on the West End to rave reviews and standing ovations after every performance. Did you imagine when you were first trying to write the play that this would be the outcome?
No, not at all – that doesn’t really cross my mind when I’m working. I try not to let that come into the creative process; I try and keep the creative process as pure as possible and focus on the art. That sometimes means having certain people in the room at certain phases [of creation], some at early stages, some at later stages. We have created a piece that was very honest. I think that having a piece that is as pure as [Misty] is, as untamed as it is, that was the dream, and the success is really just a bonus of that.
What have you most enjoyed about working on Misty?
Firstly, the way that we’ve managed to continue to improve the show, even now that it’s on. Mostly I’ve enjoyed the creative process, though – from the very beginning it’s been an artist’s dream. We began in a bubble, but we’ve been able to go with our instincts which has been really liberating. I’d also say that the getting here and getting to play to this audience every night. The play is structured, but there are elements within it that can change every night, depending on how I feel every night, and I love playing the audience back and forth. I also love the comedy, that’s definitely in the top 3 bits that I love. When I’m on stage I love playing the comedy because it’s so much fun.
What would you say was the most challenging aspect of the play’s creation?
It was a combination [of things] actually, because the play is quite unique in its structure, and so I had to battle some insecurities that I had about writing this piece. I’d also never made anything like it before, so it’s not tried and tested and that was intimidating. In many ways, though, the actual subject matter was the most challenging part; I’m putting my life on stage, and I’ve been quite a private person. I’d never put myself on stage before, and to do that, to put [my life] on stage was quite intimidating but it’s also been really rewarding.
You’ve spoken candidly about the gentrification that you’ve seen taking place as you’ve grown up in London, do you hope that this play can raise awareness of this to a wider audience?
Yeah (sic) definitely. I hope that as an artist I can shed some light on it and open a discussion about it. I think one of the jobs of the artist is to bring something that’s in the dark, into the light, and so that’s what I’ve done. I don’t think the play is answering any questions, I think it’s organising ideas and looking at what’s happening. Gentrification has happened the world over and will continue to, but it leaves a lot of people feeling displaced and, in a way, homeless. It erases people, and it erases their culture. There’s many ways of looking at it, though, and we do that in the play, and we laugh about it too. Half the time [of the play], we’re laughing at a serious matter. You know, one of my favourite books ‘Not Without Laughter’ [by Langston Hughes] deals with some serious issues, but does so in a way that inspires people to see the best of a situation. That’s what I wanted to do [with Misty]: say “let’s look at this” and explore ways to cope with it, but not without laughter.
When you were writing the play, did you consider your audience? Did you hope that you would attract a new audience to theatre?
Yeah, it was considered. The theatre wasn’t somewhere that I’d always felt welcome growing up in London, and I thought Misty was an opportunity to open [theatre] to other audiences. I didn’t exactly step out to do that, I think it’s just the kind of work that I create. I don’t write or create art for any one person, it’s inclusive. I look out every night and see so much diversity in the audiences and that’s what I want. That’s my London. We always knew Misty had the capacity to do that. All the extra marketing and press that we did was just to make sure that those audiences knew that they were included.
You’ve got an upcoming show at The Old Vic, can we expect more Misty-like shows after that?
Well you can expect some more work from me. It might be Misty-esque just because it’s going to be my play, but I don’t know. I’m really focused on telling the stories that I want to tell. I’m constantly trying to find new stories that I want to tell and that I think people need to hear. I love seeing stories and telling stories with people that are misrepresented or under represented. I think more diversity is definitely needed [in the West End].
Do you hope that Misty will be the beginning of a more culturally and racially diverse West End?
It could be. I hope it will be. I think it will help to open doors. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for people before me and [the West End] is getting better. We’ve got Kwame [Kwei-Armah] over at the Young Vic, for example, and others on their way up. I hope [Misty] opens more doors for creators and for people looking to make less mainstream work. The nature of the play in itself isn’t what usually would makes it into the West End, so I hope it changes what people think will make a successful West End show.
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★★★★ ‘Arinzé Kene is blazingly charismatic’ (Evening Standard)
★★★★ ‘Inspiringly individualistic’ (Daily Telegraph)
★★★★ ‘This firecracker of a show arrives with a bang in the West End’ (Metro)