He’s a boy that believes what his father taught him: that if he puts out enough good into the world, one day, all that good will come back.
If he does the grocery shopping, his homework and ignores the bullies at school, soon enough, he’ll be riding clear on that BMX bike his mum promised him last birthday.
Yet day by day, the world imparts a more brutal philosophy. Here the cruel and selfish live large and free, while fate falls without mercy on the gentlest of souls.
The keen young observer becomes gradually disillusioned; his absent father sold him a scam, he thinks. Being good isn’t easy. He’s investing all this time, all this work, all this patience. For what?
He internalises a new law, and it’s not for the meek.
An epic, sprawling narrative carried with grace by a rising young talent, Good Dog asks how good can survive in a place where it gets no recognition or reward.
Written by British writer and actor Arinzé Kene, spanning the years of a boy reaching manhood, it weaves a tapestry of a diasporic African community from which justice seems to have fled – where private struggles spill over, trauma ricochets and spreads, oppression begets dangerous kinds of agency, and fragile dreams are swallowed whole.
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Sydney Theatre Award-winning actor Justin Amankwah performs the single leading role, and it’s an impressive feat indeed if you’re just looking at the memory it takes to see the play through. Running as constant monologue for over two hours on a spare stage, with only subtle shifts in lighting and sound, Amankwah somehow manages to transfix with his storytelling (and help you forget your bum is aching on the hard wooden seat).
From Amankwah’s musical voice, a host of rich, vivid characters tumble out into the smoky air.
On the neighbourhood streets, there’s the what-what girls who pillage Gandhi’s corner store (“yeah what?”) and the smoking boys on the corner who wear their hoodies backwards.
There’s the father teaching his son to play cricket, and the old man who watches the telephone box from where he’s slumped against the wall. One day, he promises himself, he’ll dial that number (but what was it again?).
In the gardens below, the boy watches as little dog trembles and clenches her body whenever the big dog in the next garden barks.
And in his home, there’s his lonely mother with the growing habit, and the girl with whom he plans to make his escape.
There’s another character too: the duppy. A malevolent spirit out of Bantu folklore, it freezes the hearts of men. But the boy isn’t afraid of his duppy; in a way, they’re brothers.
Good Dog was first performed on stage in 2017, with the London riots still simmering in the UK public’s fevered imagination. “I needed to document how I felt about it,” Kene told The Independent. “It was a mad time for me.”
In an Australian context, under the fine direction of Rachel Chant, the bogeyman of the ‘African gang’ watches on at the play’s edges, a chimera of racialised hysteria and Murdoch’s goons.
Across both contexts, it forces an audience to confront the origins behind so-called ‘random acts’, and what is engendered when hope is forced to take its chances on fallow ground. When law and order is the protection racket of the privileged, when agency and the right to prosper is denied, chaos and the inferno can be the only catharsis you can claim.
It’s a tragic, searing story – a visceral howl told in earnest, swirling song. The blows that rain down on the community leave emotional craters; almost methodically, no character is spared. But there’s a lot of warmth and humour in Good Dog too, and a dogged resilience that gives everything it’s got against despair.
Another provocative and hard-hitting work from Green Door Theatre Company, Good Dog brings a new energy to the KXT Theatre that resonates into the night.
This content is created with support from City of Sydney