Arinze Kene’s monologue play is thought-provoking, immersive and humorous right from the outset. Produced by Tara Finney and Ciara Mccafferty, Good Dog provides an honest account of the day to day lives of a working-class community, who encounter social tensions and deprivation which builds up to the 2011 London riots.
The production is brought to life by the sole actor and very talented Kwaku Mills who plays an unnamed ‘boy’ attempting to fight disillusionment, by striving to be good to receive rewards. Despite the challenges and temptations he encounters, the boy reminds himself of his father’s words of wisdom to keep himself in check:
‘When the time come juss ignore them let them laugh cos venchually venchually the bigger man wins.’
Interestingly, the setting is on the balcony of an estate. The neighbourhood is heard only through voice-overs and the boy’s chronicles of monologues. There’s shop owner Mr Gandhi, the ‘what what’ girls causing trouble, the smoker boys, Desmon who bullies the boy at school. The array of dialect and London slang authentically encapsulates the multicultural community. What works the most is Kene’s skilful use of vivid language which sparks the mind to imagine the boy’s observations and experiences. This is a great way to draw the audience into the setting beyond the stage and to visualise the background characters.
It would have been more dynamic if there were other actors to depict these character’s, to see how they all bounce off one another and how they carry themselves. Despite the nostalgic references of the Tamagotchi’s and game boys, it would have been great to see these character’s brought to life visually wearing noughties inspired costumes.
Throughout, there is a theme of growing pains as the boy’s optimism gradually fades. He reaches his boiling point in Creative Writing, pushes over the table and storms out of the classroom, but he doesn’t get into trouble. At this stage, he gains an epiphany that changes his perspective. He begins to see the benefits of being bad. Everything he learned about being good becomes a blur.
After school, he notices a ‘duppy’ that closely resembles him. They nod as they pass each other by. They meet a few more times in the other scenes, and there is a chilling revelation yet to come.
The second act is the best part of the play, as this is where the neighbourhood deteriorates. The boy transforms from the Lonsdale wearing good guy in Act one, to an older version wearing an all-black outfit – Adidas cardigan, jeans, and air forces. This is even the first time we hear him use profanity.
The magic of the production is the frequent use of metaphors. The boy is a representation of a working-class community, who do their best to survive, yet their hardships continually oppress them. As a result, frustrations brew and tragedies occur, which escalates to the climatic riots. There is even a moment which is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
Ultimately, it is vital for literature to provide a voice for the unheard and Kene successfully achieves this. Good Dog is an unfiltered statement piece which highlights strength and resilience in the face of adversity. With Mills’s energetic performance, the play was definitely worth a standing ovation.