Good Dog, written by Arinzé Kene and performed by Kwaku Mills in the role of “the boy” is currently at The Traverse Theatre Edinburgh for three nights (Thursday 14th to Saturday 16th February) as part of a larger UK tour, and it is a work that certainly deserves a far longer theatrical run here.
The promotional literature describes this work as “set during the early noughties - tells the story of growing up in a multi-cultural community, and the everyday injustices that drive people to take back control”, but that is a simplification of a multi layered story of not only “the boy”, but the many different people and influences that shape his childhood and young adulthood.
Good Dog is a solo performance from Kwaku Mills who brings to life a wonderfully descriptive text of not only a neighbourhood, but some of the people living there alongside “the boy”. As a writer, Arinzé Kene has an eye for the everyday details of life that most of us miss, and as well as giving us a main character with real depth and emotions, Arinzé also skilfully creates characters that come alive in our minds as an audience as he imbues them with realism. Kwaku Mills may be alone on stage, but the story that our script tells as our characters’ lives interweave in and out of not only “boy’s” life, but one another’s is a pleasure to hear unfold. An added element of realism to our story is the limited and skilful use of pre-recorded voices of some of our main neighbourhood people. This does of course mean that Kwaku Mills also has to convincingly react to these audio cues too, and it is largely due to his skill as a story teller that everything works so well on stage.
There are so many layers to this story and the individuals that form it over the years when our story arc develops that to analyse them all would probably produce something larger than the original script, so I will keep this review brief. Here, the main elements of a young boy brought up to believe that being good eventually brings its own rewards and that belief being tested to breaking point, set against the background of a community that can no longer hold in the growing rage it feels against the inequalities and injustices it endures are the driving forces of our story. Skilfully interwoven here too is a story of the supernatural that is never far from the surface of daily reality.
What makes a young boy brought up to believe that “being good” and “turning the other cheek” to those who are bullying him at school will bring its own rewards (in this case that new bike that he so desperately wants) lose that faith as we follow his story from school days to young adulthood? This story could so easily have been one of over-used stereotypes, but avoids this trap by concentrating on subjects which many people, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds, will be able to easily identify with.
What turns this once gentle boy into a far more radical young man with so much pent-up anger inside of him that it eventually comes out in a very explosive way is another story though and here we are moving into an area that as a “voice” I have heard more than a few times before. Here though, I have to allow Arinzé Kene the freedom to write on a subject that he obviously feels so strongly about, getting to the core of what has made ordinary people angry enough to riot in some of our inner cities in the UK. This is the point in the story that as a white man I have to admit that I have no experience whatsoever to frame many reference points that our Caribbean heritage “boy” is experiencing in a multi-racial neighbourhood. What I do have to do is listen to his voice and the other voices that he represents, listen to what I am being told, and somehow find common ground upon which to stand and work at solving whatever problems are there. Along the way of that journey I might get told many things that I maybe do not want to hear, but talking, listening and taking action together is the only way to start to solve the many issues that need answers and solutions.
Review by Tom King