Writer: Arinzé Kene
Director: Natalie Ibu
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
A 13-year-old boy looks out from the balcony of his tower block flat and surveys the community below him, making wry and cutting observations a little like the narrator in Under Milk Wood. He sees wrongdoing but vows that he will, himself, stay on the straight and narrow, hoping that his Mum will reward him with a bike at Christmas. Still, he sighs “no one ever said being good is easy” and he is proven to be right.
good dog is theatre at its most simple and its most striking. The key contributors are Arinzé Kene, whose animated writing brings unseen characters to vivid life, and the lone actor, Anton Cross, who takes to the stage and owns it completely for well over two hours. Of course, it helps that director Natalie Ibu’s production is tuned to perfection, Amelia Jane Hankin’s set design is stark and uncluttered and Zoe Spurr’s lighting complements changes in tone with complete subtlety.
The boy is bullied at school by “Desmon” and “Massive Martin” and he belongs to an inner City community in which bullying prevails over compassion. A peaceful father and son are harassed by the “smoking” boys, a proud corner shopkeeper is tormented by the “what what” girls, a small dog cowers in fear of the big dog next door and even the bullies are themselves bullied. The boy’s coming of age sees his commitment to goodness challenged repeatedly as his community begins to disintegrate and descend into anarchy.
Cross, hilariously funny at times, then heroic and then heartbreakingly sad, is astonishing, maturing with his character every step of the way. He conveys Kene’s accounts of other characters so effectively that it becomes hard to believe that we have not actually seen them.
Kene balances humour and tragedy with enormous skill, but, when he unites his story with real-life events, his play bites like a Rottweiler. If the argument that the way forward may not always be the good way is morally ambiguous, the play’s central messages, advocating self-empowerment and positivity, are uplifting and encourage a vision of hope emerging from tragedy and despair.
Runs until 18 February 2017 and then tours | Image: Contributed