Misty exclusive: interview with Arinzé Kene

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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Still haven’t seen the smash-hit sensation that is Misty? Book your tickets now and get a free seat upgrade* here!

★★★★ ‘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)

With thanks to Arinzé Kene.
*Upgrade offer ends 17th November

Summer & Smoke Exclusive: interview with Rebecca Frecknall

Following an immensely successful run at the Almeida Theatre, we asked ‘Summer and Smoke’ director Rebecca Frecknall how it feels to see her latest production of the play transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre…

Your production of Tennessee Williams’ classic has achieved incredible success, when you decided to work on this play for a second time, did you imagine that it would garner such critical acclaim?
Never! If someone had told me the week I started rehearsals at the Almeida what the trajectory of this production would be I would never have believed them. I was just thrilled to have the backing and trust of the Almeida and to be able to have the opportunity to make this piece in the way that I wanted. The way it was received took me completely by surprise. I’m still pinching myself!

Was working on the play easier the second time around?
Yes in many ways. It was great to be able to go into rehearsals knowing the play so well and so intimately and with a much clearer idea of why I was doing it and what I wanted to achieve. I had such a brilliant team around me too and we very much made the show together. Obviously the stakes were much higher the second time round as this was my first big production in London and I really wanted to prove myself and make something special. The pressure can make things harder but we all loved what we were doing so it was easy to have moments of forgetting what a big deal it was for me!

You’ve said in previous interviews that you started out dreaming of acting in theatre productions, is that a dream that we’re ever likely to see you revisit?
No! Definitely not. Honestly, the first time I ever directed something (it was in my first term of university) I knew that was what I was built for. I suppose I had wanted to be an actor when I was younger because I loved plays and the theatre so much and I maybe confused the two. It’s definitely the creating that I’m addicted to, I’ll leave the acting to the experts and stay in awe of them.

This is the first show that you’ve directed and taken to the West End – how does it feel?
Unreal. I honestly don’t think it’ll really sink in that it’s transferring to the West End until it opens and people (hopefully) start turning up to see it!

Your love for theatre started with musicals, could we ever see you working on or directing one?
I would really love to direct a musical one day. I was a complete musicals nut when I was a teenager and I think I probably owe it to my younger self.

Do you have any particular plays that you dream of directing?
Yes of course, I’d love to do more of Tennessee Williams’ work and I also love the plays of Eugene O’Neil and Arthur Miller. I’d love to do a Greek tragedy one day, too, and a Chekhov – the ‘big’ plays I grew up with I suppose. There are of course new playwrights I’d love to work with too. I hugely admire the work of Alice Birch and Cordelia Lynn and think they’re both making important, sophisticated work.

You’ve commented before on the lack of female presence in theatre, did this affect the direction that you took with the production at all, particularly with the character of Alma?
I suppose I am often drawn to plays that have female protagonists. I don’t think that’s an active choice, more a subconscious attraction. In the case of Summer and Smoke I certainly angled my production towards Alma. I wanted the audience to experience the play from her point of view, to be able to take them in and out of her head. I don’t, however, think that Alma’s experiences in the play are specifically female. Lots of young men who saw the production at the Almeida really saw themselves in her.

Was it hard to adapt a play that was written in the 1940s for a modern audience, or did you find that a lot of the themes are still prominent today?
I just really wanted us to focus on the characters and to take away all the trappings and signifiers of the time in which the play was written and set (it’s set in 1916). I didn’t want the audience to be able to take any assumptions about what a ‘Tennessee Williams’ play is into their experience of watching the production either. I think that the fact that we were able to create such an open and exposed production and that people were moved by it is a testament to the fact that Williams’ themes transcend the time in which the play was written.

Do you think if you were to direct the play again in another 5 or 6 years your interpretation or direction would have changed again?
I hope so. I think that as artists we change with time, experience and influence, and therefore the work we make inevitably evolves, changes and hopefully improves! In my 20s I read this play in a particular way. In my 30s this current production is my answer to it. In my 40s…who knows? I’m sure it would speak to me differently.

Summer and Smoke opens next month (November 10th) for a strictly limited engagement. You can get your tickets to the sultry sensation right here!