Good Dog – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Arinzene Kene

Director: Natalie Ibu

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

No good deed goes unpunished, a mantra which regrettably gains merit as we age. What happens when we break away from being good? When someone realises that those who laugh gleefully as we struggle are usually bad. For many, the out-lash of violence during the London Riots was twisted retribution. The call that communities would no longer take the hit, but instead transfer that impact onto the police, the government and tragically, bystanders.

Justification is not what is sought, nor is forgiveness for these actions. Really, what writer Arinze Kene strives for is to tell a story. Set against the corner of a London high-rise, a young boy talks us through the street he lives on and the inhabitants he shares it with. As he grows so too do his friends, family and neighbours. Some for the better, others less so. He never thought, until one day, he would relinquish his father’s assertion to ‘always be good’ and to be ‘the bigger man’. Rather than just being a good dog, he instead wanted to snarl.

As the young boy Kwaku Mills is spectacular, combined with Kene’s writing is a masterclass in characterisation. Completely natural, we are fully invested in the story. Mills’ emotion reaches peak levels in the more intense moments of the production. At times uneasy, but life just is sometimes. His ability to make us laugh, angry and perhaps even cry is monolithic.

At its finest, the narrative achieves a slow burn. It works in many direct parallels, to describe the overall feel as metaphorical is too simplistic. As we grow with the young boy, the streets around him remain much the same, rather it is the people who change. Every character Mills describes grows with the production. Each is memorable, fleshed out and easily visualised.

Amelia Jane Hankin’s design is the only set piece, and all that is required. Serving as high-rise tenements as well as a literal way for Mills to ascend and bring elements of movement to the production. It allows for a sense of scale on an otherwise intimate stage, as the bullied boy can look out at the city below.

With each passing change, given our lone performer – scene changes could have been awkward. Disappearing behind the set for costume changes, Mills is masked by Helen Skiera’s sound design. At each interlude, an accompanying hit song of the era is blasted into the audience. Once more, her build-up of momentum accentuates the beats of the boy’s chest to increase the tension of his bottled disillusionment.

We don’t truly understand what we are capable of, no one does. It’s easy to admonish how things can be handled differently even when we haven’t sorted our own problems. From the ‘What-What’ girls to Smoking boys this could easily have been a piece used to skewer the youth’s resentment. Mills capturing their evolution from irritating kids to troubled teens into worrying young-adults.

Miraculously, Good Dog never comes across as preachy, it allows the audience to carve their own path. To laugh at the jokes they find funny, even if others don’t. Its simplicity is captured in how it’s laid bare for us all. No thrills or gimmicks. Mills’ transition from doe-eyed youth into something of a façade, a homunculus of his environment is staggering. A compelling, contemporary piece which reminds us that being good is the way, but that doesn’t mean everything will work out okay.

Runs until 16 February 2019 | Image: Wasi Daniju

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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