Madani Younis: “Arinzé Kene is to British theatre what Kendrick Lamar is to Hip-Hop”

Arinzé Kene is a trailblazer, a maverick, an artist whose power rests in his relentless bravery to imagine the world from another vantage point.  Don’t get side-tracked by the smile, he’s got something to say and he’s willing to say it, sing it or even dance to it. Kene’s one man show Misty is a different kind of special, the kind of special you as an artist might spend years dreaming about making in your head and he’s gone and actually made it.  Yeah, I know. It’s not fair right.

This week we open Misty in the West End at Trafalgar Studios.  I remember being at lunch with journalist Bridget Minamore a few months back and she told me that she was working on an article featuring Arinzé, Natasha Gordon and Kwame Kwei-Armah.  I said, that’s cool, what a great group of people, what’s the relevance?’ Bridget then told me that these three artists were behind the first three Black British plays ever to be produced in the West End: that’s Kwame’s Elmina’s Kitchen, Arinzé’s Misty, and Nine Night by Natasha.

I feel this week is significant because we, as a sector and as a community, are carving out a new moment in our shared theatrical history. Misty is the second Black British play to ever be in the West End. Yes, that’s right. Take a moment and let that sink in for all reasons that make that statement feel powerful and inherently fucked up at the same time. This is a significant moment for all, and we should all not just be celebrating, but both advocating and speaking about it.

When I first arrived at the Bush six years ago, I commissioned Arinzé to write this play. Well, it wasn’t originally this play, it’s taken many forms over the years before becoming the Misty we know and love today. We never gave up on the commission because we never gave up on Arinzé. We were clear we were investing in him as we knew we’d end up with a piece of art that we loved as much as him. I remember watching him grapple with what Misty was as an idea – conceptually it was a really hard play to gauge on the page. Then the relationship Arinzé formed in the room with director Omar Elerian and the other creatives gave me the best seat in the house to watch the play being realised in real time.

Six years ago we started this journey with Arinzé and I’m really proud to say that Misty embodies all of the values that we hold dear here at the Bush and reflects the version of London that we all live in. What’s more, Misty redefines what new work can look like on stage and challenges the canon of British theatre – what it should look like and what it must include.

We’ve had four previews and each night we’ve watched 400 people get to their feet as the curtain comes down. For us, this play is transcending theatre, it’s finding new audiences and carving out a new space in the West End. It’s bigger than theatre and represents a moment in which the work of diverse artists can exist on its own merit and – artistically – on its own terms.

And now a request: Stand up. I ask everyone to stand up and help celebrate and advocate for the continued success of an artist who I believe defines the very best of what it means to be British.

Misty is now playing at Trafalgar Studios until 20 Oct.