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Isabella James

Review: KANYE THE FIRST at HighTide Festival, Walthamstow

Kanye the First Sam Steiner’s latest play Kanye the First headlined the opening night of HighTide’s pop-up festival in Walthamstow, London. This surreal piece of theatre centres around Annie, a 27-year-old Londoner who works in marketing and struggles with her identity. We watch her take care of her incontinent mother, date boys that wish she was someone else and lie to Starbuck’s baristas about her own name. Then, after a brief mention that Kanye West has passed away, Annie wakes up in the body of Yeezy himself. His second coming.

Steiner’s debut play Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons featured a world where characters are limited to 140 words a day and received massive success at the Edinburgh 2014 Festival. On the day that twitter announces it is doubling its user’s limit, it is almost poetic that this exciting playwright doubles his repertoire with his own second coming Kanye the First.

Annie is played with great comic effect by Imogen Doel who now must deal with the repercussions of the body swap, as she frustratingly reminds everyone she is not middle-aged, not from Chicago and definitely not black. The rest of the ensemble also deliver strong, flexible performances as Annie’s mother (Caroline Faber) and various males who all look like her dad and females who all look like her sister (Daniel Francis-Swaby and Keziah Joseph) in this bizarre, twisted, turn of events. Eventually, Annie starts to realise that being Kanye has a lot more benefits than being Annie, in fact it might have been her destiny all along. “Annie? Anyay? Anye? Kanye?”

For any fan of Kanye there were plenty of nods to the artist, from the spliced cultural images projected on the screen to actual quotes from his lyrics and interviews. However, this wasn’t really a story about Kanye, it was about Annie. It was also about identity, insecurity and the need for gratification. As well as personal narrative, celebrity culture, racism and cultural appropriation. In fact, it was about so many things that it became hard to keep up. With a 90-minute running time, Steiner packed in so many ‘issues of the day’ that it felt a little more like scrolling through Huffington Post articles than experiencing a cohesive narrative.

There were plenty of intelligent plot devices and provoking passages about Annie’s state of mind but as a whole, it had me longing for the brevity of 140 characters again.