Poverty has a drowning effect. Those who are economically oppressed will often find themselves berated for paddling in an overly ferocious manner as they struggle for breath. Whilst the media and large swathes of politicians have failed to give voice to these suffocating communities, many artists are standing up to give insightful, honest and humane responses. Arinzé Kene’s Good Dog is a striking example of this. Here at the Watford Palace theatre, Kwaku Mills channels Kene’s words to give a dignified and compassionate insight into the daily struggles affecting far too many people in modern day Britain.
Delivered as a monologue, interspersed with noughties grime and garage, the play begins with Mills as an innocent school boy who worships “good” fervently. His steadfast and dutiful responses to the daily challenges of his family’s poverty are naive to the point where one is immediately aware trouble will come. Along with his own struggles, Mills’s all seeing eye peers from his balcony to bring us stories of a variety of characters from his estate. The local corner shop duo of “Gandhi” and his stray cat are particularly great. Each is judged in turn, being cast initially by the naive child as good or bad. Although many of the good characters are currently struggling, we are reassured that it is merely a matter of time before their fortunes change. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t prove to be the case.
Life begins to wear not only at the growing Mills, whose life we see pass by before our eyes, but also on the supposedly good figures who never find themselves rewarded. More bewildering to Mills is the fact that the ‘bad’ characters seem to be prospering. This is where Kene’s subtle writing shines. The young Mills slowly becomes ‘bad’, the reason for the quotes being the play’s underlying point: one has a sense of respect or understanding for the boy’s decisions. Rather than leaving him in a continued state of haplessness, his decisions are a clawing attempt for dignity made by a child under immense pressure. The ability of Mills, who is excellent throughout, to translate this reasoning for a range of different characters as he narrates their lives is astounding. Stage centre for the play’s entirety is a charred monolithic cube. Swirls of smoke slowly billow from its carcass-like frame, evoking memories of Grenfell.
A statue to the kind of inevitable and depressing end game that often meets Mill’s ensemble of downtrodden neighbours. This air of inevitability that the play is soaked in adds an uneasiness to your viewing. Here it is the London Riots that will be the play’s climax. The intelligence of Kene is to present this political tragedy as a human one. We see anger as dignity and structural oppression as daily struggle. There is no sense of politics being played, just life as it is experienced. This, along with the interesting range of characters makes for essential viewing.