This is not a review.
'Aftertaste' is my direct response to a piece of theatre I've seen. It's raw and hardly edited (just like my dissertation on King Lear that I wrote 4 days before the deadline, got a 2:1 though). So often I see theatre and I declare it's great but don't formulate my thoughts. So this is what my series of blogs are. The inner-ramblings of an emerging director. If you find what I'm debating in my brain interesting, GREAT, because the more people with opinions, the more interesting our theatrical landscape will become.
So here goes. I've started with a scorcher.
Written and performed by Arinzé Kene
Directed by Omar Elerian
Seen on Wed 31 Oct '18
For a play called Misty, there’s nothing vague about it. Throughout the play and its chapters, we hear an amalgamation of voices. It’s all very meta. A play within a play that’s not really a play within a play but you really should just sit there and listen, feel, move and sweat along with him.
The two hours and ten running time feels like 5 seconds in hindsight. So much is shown and yet so much is left unexplained to allow for audience’s imaginations to run wild. Bearing this in mind, I saw it once. What I am going to say is not a critique or the definitive answer to what this show was. But it moved me. It moved me so much so that I practically had to run home and talk non-stop about what it inspired in me. So much so that I applauded and shouted and stood at the bows and just wanted to be like 'YES MAN. I HEAR YOU. I HEARD YOU. YOU'RE REALLY SWEATY. CAN WE HAVE A COFFEE TO TALK ABOUT THE DECONSTRUCTION OF YOUR WRITING PROCESS PLS.' And with that pressure relinquished from my shoulders I can unreservedly attempt to deconstruct what I thought about this incredibly fiery piece of theatre.
At first, we accept he’s playing a character. There’s an argument on a bus. It gets violent. And yet, 3 minutes later he receives a voicemail. There’s Arinzé, the writer/performer, referred to by name by characters on stage who are evidently close friends. An incredibly interesting theatrical device that makes the audience simultaneously watch the writer, performer and fictional character stand there in one body. A metaphor for all the masks a person must wear in the theatre. Do you appease the producer, audience, friends, family? Who comes first. Naturally, Arinzé wants to be true to his voice. It’s hard enough to write a script and have it performed. He wants to keep the truth and the only way he can achieve this is honouring all the voices he is at the mercy of and introducing us to his immediate world.
Next the balloon. The big, orange balloon(s). I desperately wish deep in my soul that one day, Arinzé and Omar were in an R&D at Theatre Deli and were laughing about putting Arinzé in to a really big orange ball, then did it. What ensues is easily humourous. Juxtapose the fast-paced narrative and rhythmic spoken word and give the audience Arinzé in a really big balloon, it’s much needed relief. Yet we can’t ignore the symbolism. The fiery orange of the street lights he regularly speaks about, the imagery of fire and passion and anger all bring us back to orange. But why a balloon? It’s springy, therefore you’re safe and enclosed but vulnerable to popping at any time. That, or it’s stripping it right back to childlike humour states which we’d be lost without. The anger the performer is feeling is so intense. Injustice from every angle. And yet, get in a big orange ball and we’re all laughing and mildly stressed that it’s going to pop loudly and our enjoyment is short-lived.
The poetry is something I can’t not mention. This delicate chord is struck throughout the play between poetry and prose. It's an epic format that, accompanied by Shiloh Coke and Adrian McLeod's pulsating beats, drums the message and the themes straight in to our willing minds. I have been repeating ‘geh geh’ for the past fews weeks and becoming a lyrical genius. Upon further research, I have been informed that not only is it a beautifully rhythmic base upon which Kene raps and rants about gentrification in London and how this cafe has a separate tea menu, but a Nigerianism that mimics a bass drum in African music. Kene accompanying this with a simultaneous foot stamp only enhances this further. I stamp, you listen, geh geh. I am yet to buy the script, or the programme, so I cannot back this all up with quotes from the text but the two other passages/scenes that stick in my mind are;
3. geh geh (again)
Kene is creating a living-breathing vision of London with veins and viruses and arteries. London is a multi-cultural smash of people and jobs and dreams and disagreements. There's the hoodies we hide from on the bus but the true virus is gentrification. Communities losing their identities. I was raised in Winchester. Safe to say this London vibe is a world away from me but I feel alive and excited to have a front row seat to someone telling me about it. Kene talks about writing 'a black play' or 'some urban safari jungle shit', the stereotype. It's a prevalent discussion within our theatre spaces. But Kene broke that and it was more than that.
Just as was pointed out in An Octoroon at the Dorfman, Kene's mate points out that most of the audience are white. I'm white. I'm sat in the front row. I'm wide-eyed, and open to all he is showing me. My heart is racing and I am empowered by the skill of Kene's writing and performance and by Elerian's direction. As a theatre-maker I'm like YES. You're not dulling what you want to say. I'm sat in the audience open to listen. Sadiq Khan was in the audience the same night as me. A strong reminder that leaders of this country live in our space and amongst us and sometimes hear our stories. I felt wholly included. I felt fiery. It was totally raw and skilled theatre, sorry featre.
Misty was a hot-bed of a lot of themes that I can't even scratch the surface of. But this is my original response. I'd give this play four-and-a-half big orange balls out of five. It's only missing the half a ball because I didn't see it twice, didn't buy the script and I undoubtedly missed a lot of references. But I can't wait to see this machine perform again. Utterly mesmerising and heartfelt.