Actor and playwright, Arinze Kene, began to write his monologue ‘GOOD DOG’ during the London Riots of 2011, which began in Tottenham and spread through England, resulting in looting, arson, mugging, assault and murder over 6 days. The play was first produced in the UK in 2017 and is set in the decade leading up to the London Riots.
We meet 13 year old Boy, (Justin Amankwah), a sensitive and kind teenager who lives with his mum in a council flat in Tottenham, North London. His father has left them, but, ever optimistic, he treasures his dad’s advice, ‘Good things come to good people’.
He starts his neighbourhood story looking down from his balcony at the familiar characters he has found affection for – even though he is mocked and bullied by the “smoking boys” and the shoplifting teenagers he calls the “what-what girls”, as “what” is their only word of choice. Although he sees a landscape scarred by violence and poverty, his sense of humour is endearing and Amankwah throws Boy’s comic lines away with a natural indifference that works for him.
We hear stories about “Trevor Senior” pushing his son to play cricket to keep him from straying. The grocery shop owner, known as “Gandhi”, who begrudgingly takes in a stray cat who becomes his best friend after killing his unwanted mice and rats. The beauty parlour with the naive “Mrs Blackwood”, the market and the bike shop.
Boy desperately wants a bike and prays that his mother will buy him one.He eventually steals the rusty old bike on display outside the shop from its nasty owner.
As Boy gets older, and his optimism begins to deplete, he takes refuge from torment in the local library, where he becomes fascinated by the shy and silent “Jamilla”. As their friendship blossoms and the boy’s mother sinks into an alcoholic depression, they begin cooking and take on Jamilla’s catering business. Boy stashes money in a pillowcase under his bed as their escape route.
The play shows the dark undercurrent of unrest and tensions between the police and the Anglo/African community that eventually led to the 2011 riots. Amankwah is charismatic onstage and produces rich dialects for his characters. The two hour monologue could perhaps be edited down and the changes in storyline and characters better defined. Director Rachel Chant has guided Amankwah throughout the play with humour, charming innocence and tragic sadness.
A Green Door Theatre Company production. Arinze Kene’s GOOD DOG plays at the Kings Cross Theatre, Level 2 of the Kings Cross Hotel, 244-246 William Street until the 16th November, 2019.
Featured image- Justin Amankwah in ‘Good Dog’ at the Kings Cross Theatre. Pic by Jasmin Simmons.