REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★
In 2011, a 29-year-old man was shot dead by police officers in north London. Two days later, an initially peaceful protest aimed at seeking “justice” for the victim and his family escalated into violent confrontations between police and the public, with riot activities lasting several days and extending across a number of English cities and towns. Five people were killed during that time.
Nigerian-British actor and playwright Arinzé Kene penned Good Dog, a two-hour monologue piece that focuses on a multicultural inner-city London community in the years leading up to the 2011 riots. It highlights the inequalities that cause underlying tension to build in the community and the deeply-entrenched disillusionment that finally becomes bedlam. Kene’s Good Dog is now on stage at Sydney’s Kings Cross Theatre, presented by Green Door Theatre Company (in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company) and directed by Rachel Chant.
The story is told largely from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy, whose named we are never told (Justin Amankwah). He’s an immigrant living with his mother and is thoroughly convinced of the idea that good things happen to good people. His mum has promised him a bike, so if he behaves himself, that will be his reward. That means staying away from the roguish ‘smoking boys’ and the shoplifting teenagers he refers to as the ‘what-what girls’. It also means ignoring the relentless gibes from the formidable school bully, Desmond.
While the boy has his story to tell of the unfairness he faces in his own life, he also has plenty to say about those living around him, exposing widespread inequality in the community. There’s Trevor Senior, who spends considerable time teaching his son to play cricket as a way of keeping him out of trouble and getting him a different life; there’s the shopkeeper referred to as ‘Gandhi’, whose only real friend is a stray cat; and there’s Mrs Blackwood’s struggle to deal with her unfaithful husband.
Kene’s text paints a bleak picture with vivid brush strokes. It’s a gripping and moving monologue foregrounding the notion that the unheard will ultimately find their way of being heard – potentially at a significant cost. It is detailed in its description of ordinary daily activities, bringing home how easily dissatisfaction can descend into antipathy and insurrection.
Amankwah is a compelling storyteller, quickly demonstrating how ideally cast he is as the genial but naïve teenager, determined to have good come to him by righteous behaviour. It’s easy to become deeply engaged in the tales told and to rail against the predicaments of those the boy observes, for whom it is clear nothing will change in spite of their honest intentions. Over the course of the play’s two hours, Amankwah’s character believably ages into his late teens, increasingly attuned to the ways of the world but somehow retaining an admirable optimism. His delivery of Kene’s monologue feels authentic and is so crucial to our engagement with this community’s story (mention should also be made of Linda Nicholls-Gidley’s work with Amankwah as voice and dialect coach).
Chant’s direction ensures the focus never moves from Amankwah and the text. Events are played out on a simple set (designed by Maya Keys) that allows the actor to speak to audience members on each side of the traverse stage with ease. Similarly, Kelsey Lee’s lighting choices never distract but rather subtly enhance mood and feel throughout.
It may examine a community on the other side of the world, but Good Dog has much to say to audiences everywhere about the importance of being heard and seen, and reminds us that we leave people in the shadows at our own peril. Recommended.
Photo credit: Jasmin Simmons
GOOD DOG – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 16 November 2019
Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (242-248 William Street, Kings Cross)
Performance Times: Tuesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Sunday 5:00pm
Running time: 120 minutes (no interval)
Tickets and more info: www.kingsxtheatre.com/good-dog