Theatre Review: good dog // Tiata Fahodzi

Photo Credit: Tiata Fahodzi / Spring 2019 National Tour

From acclaimed actor and writer Arinzé Kene comes good dog, a short, filmed adaptation of Kene’s original full-length play. This twenty-minute digital piece gives us a fresh look into the life and struggles of a Black schoolboy (simply dubbed ‘Boy’) living in a multicultural, inner-city London community.

This adaptation, supported by The Space, BBC and Arts Council England, stays true to its original monologue form, but builds Boy’s world further, granting us greater access to a number of the people and places that have shaped his life.

Photo Credit: Tiata Fahodzi / Spring 2019 National Tour

Anton Cross is Kene’s Boy, watching his younger-self mature over the years, narrating in both the past and present. There is humour and pathos to his guidance, constantly reminding us of the commonplace struggles that many people living in his kind of community face. It is starkly personal, and rightly so. The underlying pulse of the music adds another layer of rhythm to Boy’s words, making them almost poetic which – coupled with the film’s creative use of graphics – helps to push the play even further beyond theatrical boundaries, presenting an adaptation that is quietly revolutionary.

From the start, Boy speaks with a direct mode of address, looking straight into the camera whilst bypassing the typical breakage of the fourth wall altogether as he leads us from place to place, year to year. It creates a theatrical-level intimacy that draws us in. It is distant, yet interactive, almost daring us to jump in with our own comments, but never truly allowing us to. This is, in part, fostered by the passage of time across the piece. Whilst the older Boy gives internal weight to the scenes of his younger self, there is also often a lapse into the given moment of these past memories themselves. The older Boy often seems to just momentarily slip away from our view and thoughts, becoming an almost spectral-like figure, akin to the “duppy” his father once witnessed at the foot of his bed. These layers of voyeurism add to good dog‘s harnessing of its theatrical roots.

Photo Credit: Tiata Fahodzi / Spring 2019 National Tour

However, the reduction of the play’s length for this adaptation has led to a level of ambiguity, particularly surrounding the piece’s conclusion. Now in the year 2013, the film concludes with Boy returning home with a handful of his belongings thrown into a clear plastic bag, seemingly adorned with police markings. The implication is not as clear as it is in Kene’s original, full-length play, but the subtle acknowledgement towards the 2011 London riots is still there. Hailing from North London myself, the importance of the adaptation’s tentative exploration of life leading up to this event is not lost on me. What good dog does, particularly through the repeated symbolic story of the scrapping dogs, is to begin to refocus our attention towards the underlying issues many children still face in our communities today. No matter how good our dogs are, sometimes society just does not reward them justly. Whilst I think the reduction of the play’s length has led to it casting a much more subtle shadow over its intentioned messages, what we have gained is the beginnings of an even wider look at how our wider society is failing our communities. 

Words by Emily Radakovic.

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