Notes on MISTY
Posted Feb 28, 2023
When Misty transferred to London’s West End in 2018, playwright and performer Arinzé Kene wrote about the play’s origins. In this preface, he introduces the inspiration for the play in a conversation about theater, race, and “diversity” that unfolded in the weeks and months following a night in the West End with Raymond, an usher and aspiring actor he met at the Young Vic Theatre.

I’ve been told to write a preface. So I guess I’ll just launch right in and tell you how Misty came about.

I went to the Young Vic Theatre a few years back to see a play. I’m being ushered into the theater and I get talking with the usher. He’s a tall young wide-eyed baby-faced Black guy. His name is Raymond (his name ain’t actually Raymond, I’ve changed it to protect his identity). Raymond is fresh out of drama school, excitable, optimistic about the industry and full of young actor jizz. You know the stuff. He’s energetically talking at me about acting stuff and so my mind was drifting until he goes, “Oh I saw this good play recently…ah man I’ve forgotten the name of it…it’s on upstairs at the Royal Court…it’s a Black play that’s blah blah blah…” And he carries on describing the play but my mind goes off on a tangent and I’m thinking to myself…a Black play?

Now I’d heard this term used plenty before but that evening for some reason it really landed and I said to Raymond, “Raymond. A Black play? What do you mean by a Black play?”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean, how was the play Black?”

“Well…it had Black people in it.”

“Hmm. Right. Ok. Ok. Right ok. Ok. Right.”

Raymond tears my ticket, shows me my seat. I watch the play. I leave the theater. Heading to Waterloo station now, heading home, and I see Raymond, he’s just finished his shift so we walk out together. He asks me what I thought of the play and I think for a moment, then I say fuck it…

“Yeah man, pretty standard white play.” I knew what I was doing.

Raymond’s all like, “Hold up. What do you mean ‘white play’?”

“Raymond, it had white people in it, it’s a white play.”

“No-no, I’ve seen it…I wouldn’t call it a white play…It wasn’t about like…being white or whatever, it was a dysfunctional family, it was a family play.”

“Ok, ok right, right, ok, right. But Raymond. The play you were telling me about earlier, the one that you recommended to me, that’s a Black play right? It’s about Black people right?”

“Raymond. A Black play? What do you mean by a Black play?”

“No-no, that…that play was…it was about people trafficking, it’s a people trafficking play.”

“THEN WHY CALL IT A BLACK PLAY, RAYMOND? If it was a people trafficking play, why call it a Black play?”


He looked into space. His face fell apart. Then he said, “I don’t know.” Then he fainted and I caught him just like in the movies. Nah not really, he didn’t faint but he did go kind of pale. He got upset.

We were still on The Cut so I walked Raymond back to the theater, sat him down, and got him some water. He placed his head on the table. Said he was feeling dizzy but I know when a man is trying not to cry. About a minute went by in silence, he hadn’t sipped his water. He really needed to process this whole Black play white play shit. He raised his head, his eyes squinted, he says something along the lines of, “I don’t know why I called it a Black play, bro. I don’t know anything anymore. Just because there’s mainly Black people in it, it doesn’t make it a Black play. Why is it that in my head, the race of the characters in the play, or the person who wrote the play, comes before the actual play itself? As though that’s what’s most important about it.” He was shaking his head.

“It ain’t just you, Raymond. We all do it. It’s our mindset.”

“Fuck that mindset! Let’s reset that mindset!”

The whole of the Young Vic Theatre bar looked around to us. Raymond was sacked from his front-of-house job the following day.

After that night, Raymond was never the same again. He’d text me nearly every day and stalk me into having coffees with him where he’d chew my ear off about the whole Black play white play thing. The baby-faced optimistic Raymond was now a distant memory. He had become disillusioned. Making all of this worse was that around that time everyone started using the “D” word again. “Diversity.” It was everywhere. In the Guardian. The Stage. Evening Standard. Metro. David Harewood commenting on it…and Raymond would harass me over coffee like, “I looked the word up, ‘Diversity,’ bro, the Oxford definition is ‘point of difference,’ bro.

“It ain’t just you, Raymond. We all do it. It’s our mindset.”

“Fuck that mindset! Let’s reset that mindset!”

A point of difference. Am I a point of difference? When they say we need more diversity, do they mean they need more points of difference? If I’m the point of difference, what’s the norm? Is white theater the norm? Is white theater a thing? Are Adrian Lester and Debbie Tucker Green points of difference? Diversity yeah…this diversion to the norm, tell me, who gets to say what’s a diversion and what’s ordinary? I don’t wanna be a diversion. I’ve been on buses that have been diverted. That shit ain’t fun. Pisses everyone off. It’s long. And maybe that’s the reason why Suzman was pissed off, read this paper here bro, right here, theater’s veteran Janet Suzman says ‘Theater is a white invention.’ She says Black heads don’t go to theater, her exact words, to quote her, ‘They don’t bloody come.’ If we don’t bloody come then where did I meet you, bro? Am I delusional? Let me know if I’m delusional, bro.” Delusional would be a reach but he was definitely not ok anymore.

A few months later Raymond and I are back at the Young Vic again. We’ve just seen a play and I bump into a Black actress I know. We’ll call her Donna. Donna tells me there’s an awesome play I should go see.

“What’s the name of the play, Donna?” I ask.

Donna says, “Oh man… it’s the Black play on at the blah blah blah…”

It messed with her so much that she was neither an actress, nor a Black actress, she’d become a shit actress. Never in the moment, never in the scene.

Now, beside me, I could feel Raymond begin to turn. He wasn’t gonna let it slide. Raymond was “woke” now. So the words “Black play” to him meant, “Let us fight”… He responded like a shark to a drop of blood.

“Whoa whoa whoa. Black play?” he said.

“Yeah. Yeah, it’s a Black play and…” Donna continued.

“As opposed to?” asked Raymond.

“I’m sorry?”

“As opposed TO?”

“I…I don’t get what you’re asking me.”

“As opposed to it being a white play? Answer me!”

“No-no, just, well, it’s a Black play—”

“Why’s it a Black play? Like. Why though?”

“Because it is! It’s a Black play init! Arinzé, who is this guy? The play was written by a Black woman, there’s Black people in it, therefore—”

Now, Raymond leans in for the kill. I tried to stop him but I was too late. He says…

“Donna, are you an actress, or a Black actress? Is Hamlet a play, or a white play?”

Donna was done. She could not answer, her mind was blown. She had to quit acting.

Cos she didn’t know whether casting directors wanted to see her as an actress or a Black actress. Didn’t know whether to greet them with a “hello” or an “eh-yo.” It messed with her so much that she was neither an actress, nor a Black actress, she’d become a shit actress. Never in the moment, never in the scene. Only ever thinking about her Blackness. Maybe Donna’s made up. I don’t know. She’s real somewhere. Anyway. Whatever happened, it led me to write this thing.

This text was originally published as part of the Trafalgar Studios production’s program.

Contributor Bio

Arinzé Kene MBE is a writer and performer whose most recent one-man play, Misty, premiered at the Bush Theatre and Trafalgar Studios to widespread critical acclaim, including two Olivier Award nominations for Best Actor and Best New Play.

Kene’s stage work also includes Good Dog (Tiata Fahodzi), God’s Property (Soho Theatre), Little Baby Jesus (Oval House Theatre), and Estate Walls (Oval House), which earned him Most Promising Playwright at the Off West End Theatre Awards and a nomination for Best New Play. He was part of the Royal Court Theatre and Soho Theatre’s Young Writers’ Groups. Prior to that, Kene was on attachment at the Lyric Hammersmith as a recipient of the Pearson Playwrights’ Bursary. In addition to his stage work, Kene writes for the screen and is developing a number of original features. His first feature script, Seekers, was on the Brit List 2015. He is currently working on the feature project Indigo Bloom with Element Pictures.

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MAR 3 – APR 2, 2023
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