What makes a good man turn bad? This is the question posed by good dog, a new play premiering at Watford Palace Theatre, which delicately discerns Britain’s multicultural communities and the everyday injustices that drive people to take back control. It raises the question of whether or not, in the end, everyone who’s good gets what they deserve.
Through the monologue of a 13-year-old boy Arinzé Kene, the writer of good dog, who starred in Channel 4’s Crazyhead, Youngers and BBC’s EastEnders, tells of community, growing up in a diverse area unified by class and survival, and what happens when you lose faith in being good.
Through the production Arinzé examines themes such as social decay, institutional racism, drug abuse and bullying. He seeks to give a voice to those obscured within the propaganda storm while prejudiced voices are amplified.
Artistic director at tiata fahodzi, Natalie Ibu, tells me a little more about why the national touring theatre company chose to take on this production: “good dog is a great example of a tiata fahodzi play because it places the African heritage person at the heart of the story but is actually about really complex identity politics that we all share – no matter your particular combination of experience and heritage.
“At tiata fahodzi we pride ourselves in seeking out stories of those who sit outside the singular narrative. We refuse to oversimplify the African diaspora and, instead, relish the complexity. We want to multiply the narratives – about ourselves and each other – and debate the mixed experience of Britain today and tomorrow.”
Through the monologue, Natalie tells me, Arinzé writes “an astonishing love letter to the people and places that leave their mark on your life and a troubling thesis about what happens when you are unseen and unheard.”
Arinzé’s initial inspiration for good dog stemmed from a desire to imagine what drove his friends and community to riot in the summer of 2011 – in London and beyond.
However it is told through a monologue of one boy and Natalie explains how this illuminates an experience not often noticed.
“The narrator is a little black boy who slips through the cracks but this ability to go unnoticed, gives him a privileged panoramic point of view. Boys like this - neither excellent and extraordinary nor dangerous – are often a victim of quiet neglect; they don’t have a voice, don’t get attention but not in good dog.
“It’s about faith, about growing up, about being a boy and being a man, about survival and resilience, about estates and about rebellion and protest. It feels to me that we - all of us - have a job to do to promote empathy, compassion and humanity and Arinzé’s play is a real gift.”
A play with such a powerful message must be quite a heavy burden for any director to take on, I wondered how Natalie prepared for the job.
“Research is one of my favourite bits of the job as you spend time immersing yourself in the world of the play and becoming an expert of a very idiosyncratic world – the themes of the play seem to be everywhere you turn when you’re working on a new show.
“Each rehearsal process is bespoke and particular but this one will be even more unique because it’s just one actor and me (plus a great team including a stage manager and assistant director) so I’m spending a lot of time thinking about how to keep us all healthy and resilient because it’s a big play despite the size of the cast. It’ll be like training for a marathon - I can’t wait.”
Watford Palace Theatre, 20 Clarendon Road, Watford, WD17 1JZ, February 14 to 18. Details: 01923 235455