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Good Dog by Arinzé Kene at Bernie Grant Arts Centre

good dogArinze Kene’s Misty ran at the Bush Theatre to huge critical acclaim before becoming only the second black writer to have a second West End transfer at Trafalgar Studios. His lesser known earlier show, good dog premiered at Watford Palace in 2017, exploring many of the same questions. The show returns to the Bernie Grant Art’s Centre, in Tottenham.

There is a sense in which Misty was Kene’s magnum opus and good dog was a kind of warm-up act. The set is largely the same: sparse except a dominating, large black box, suggestive of a council block. The character is somewhat similar: a young black man from north-east London. The themes are somewhat comparable: the gradual effects of gentrification alongside old community oddities. This in no way detracts from good dog as a work in its own right, but audience members who see it off the back of having seen Misty might see this as an early draft.

Set on one street in the days leading up to the 2011 London riots, good dog explores the difficulty of remaining good in a world which doesn’t always encourage good behaviour. We hear the words of the central character boy‘s father throughout the play, telling boy (played brilliantly by Kwaku Mills) to be good, because goodness is always rewarded. Through teenage life’s trials and tribulations, he tries to be the ‘bigger man’, but bit by bit, he slowly starts to see the attraction of a bad life.

With its quotidian observations of life in a north London community, good dog is a kind of Arthur Millere-esque well-made play. But beneath this surface is a meditation on the representation of a certain kind of person in society as a ‘good citizen’ or otherwise. Everyone’s trying to get by, but for someone, following the rules doesn’t always pay off. good dog seems to be an examination of how those people perceive themselves, as opposed to how the media portrays them.

Despite the easy pace of day to day observations of street life, the pace of the production is slower. With only Mills onstage, costume changes are lengthy and perhaps unnecessary; when offstage characters deliver lines, Mills speaks over them, meaning that we can’t quite hear much of either of them, and lighting changes are often a bit jarring, sometimes ahead of where Mills is on stage.

Most importantly, his transition from ‘good dog’ to ‘bad dog’ is quite sudden, where a more gradual examination of the change might have been more interesting. Some of these issues are script-based ones, and as such, shouldn’t be blamed on this performance; even so, the production has a generally stop-start nature which doesn’t complement the easygoing style of delivery and setting.

All in all, good dog is a very good play in its own right, as an examination of the social pressures of being good in a dog-eat-dog world; but maybe it’s the lesser known sibling of Misty for a reason.

4 stars

Review by Thomas Froy

The return of Arinzé Kene’s interrogation of multi-cultural community and the pressures of doing good even while facing challenges and injustice.

Mum’s promised him that bike so even when school or homelife bites, he knows to keep his chin up, his head down and his shirt clean. No harsh word, no sudden push to the ground will distract him from growing up to be a good man. Because in the end, everyone who’s good gets what they deserve. Don’t they?

Good Dog – 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.

Delicately observed and fearlessly told by writer Arinzé Kene (Netflix’s Crazyhead, Eastenders, Channel 4’s Youngers, West End smash Girl From the North Country, and Misty at Bush Theatre).

Cast: Kwaku Mills
Playwright: Arinzé Kene
Director: Natalie Ibu
Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin
Lighting Designer: Zoe Spurr
Sound Designer: Helen Skiera
Associate Director: Anastasia Osei-Kuffour
Associate Lighting Designer: Chris May
Producer: tiata fahodzi and Tara Finney Productions, in association with Watford Palace Theatre
Twitter @tiatafahodzi, @tara_finney, #goodtiata

20-23 March 2019


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