Back in spring 2017, Arinzé Kene’s one-man show good dog made its debut. Inspired by the Tottenham riots back in 2011 (following the police shooting of Mark Duggan), it takes a forensic look at the dynamics of a community, as well as the motivations and dreams of the individuals within it. The play has been brought back by tiata fahodzi for a UK tour, directed by Natalie Ibu and starring RADA graduate Kwaku Mills.
The story is told by ‘Boy’; as much a part of the story as he is an observer, Boy introduces us to the area of London in which he lives. From “Gandhi” running the local store and the long term resident with a compliment for everyone, to the father & son playing cricket and the smoking boys taunting them – it’s a bustling part of the city with a range of cultures coming together to form a community. All Boy has ever wanted is a bike (there’s one in the nearby shop that has caught his eye) – his mum has promised she’ll buy him one, so he’s decided to be good at all times as he believes his patience & behaviour will be rewarded. But as he continues to be tormented at school by Desmond, and then a kindly local figure is killed, his faith in goodness is tested; would he be better off if he acted up every now and then?
Arinzé Kene’s ability to translate microscopic observations into entertaining, yet hard-hitting stories never ceases to amaze me. His writing is instantly recognisable in its rhythmic style, combining playful details (such as doors that close painfully slowly) with political points and emotive subject matter. Whilst this play is specifically about London, the community dynamics and the struggles you can encounter when you’re growing up could describe anywhere in the country; touring the show is such a good idea, as it will be completely relatable to some and an eye-opener to others.
It’s not just the writing that’s brilliantly done – all aspects of the show come together wonderfully to bring the play to life. The set design (Amelia Jane-Hankin) consists solely of a large metal cube, which acts as a backdrop as well as something for Boy to climb across and sit on top of; this allows for height to be utilised, and it’s also mined for comedy thanks to the mention of Super Mario. The sound design (Helen Skiera) becomes more of a soundscape, intertwining with the script and immersing you in the world of good dog. The transitions between scenes could maybe be a little swifter, as a little momentum is lost at these points, though it should be remembered that the show is performed by just one person for just over two hours (with only one break).
Said performer for this tour is Kwaku Mills, who inhabits the role with ease and demonstrates an easy charm that quickly gets the audience onside. The distinction between young Boy in the first act and Boy a few years later in the second is subtle yet clear, showing both the change in age and his altered attitude. The script rolls off Mills’ tongue as if the words are his own – he truly is a talent to watch out for.
My verdict? Another work of genius from Arinzé Kene, forensically analysing a community and telling an emotional story at the same time – Kwaku Mills is one to watch.
good dog was at RADA (Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre) on 28 February 2019. Tickets and further details about the rest of the tour can be found on the official website.