Good Dog

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Four stars

Life’s a riot for the bullied teenage boy at the centre of Arinze Kene’s solo play, first seen in 2017 and now remounted for this touring remount of Natalie Ibu’s production. Looking down on a turn of the twenty-first century inner city housing estate from the safety of his balcony, the boy we meet in the play’s first half may be wide-eyed about the world he observes in messy motion beneath him, but he’s as un-street-smart as he could possibly be. At the root of this is his unwavering belief in doing good no matter what is thrown at him. Only in the second half does he toughen up to the everyday conflicts he can no longer avoid before everything around him erupts into life-changing turmoil.

Brought to captivating life by Kwaku Mills, the boy presents a vivid picture of communal disaffection and disenfranchisement, which he delivers in Kene’s rich word pictures. This is occasionally broken up by Helen Skier’s inventive soundscape, so a chorus of voices off paint a portrait of the boy’s rough and tumble neighbourhood in a set of characterisations that sounds like a multi-cultural take on what Jim Cartwright did with the 1980s dole queue generation in Road.

As Ghandi the local corner shop owner fends off the predatory What-What Girls while the Smoking Boys sit on walls they’re not supposed to, these form a back story that eventually gives way to something more dangerous, with the boy at its simmering centre, waiting to erupt. This is brought to symbolic life by the towering wooden construction that forms Amelia Jane Hanklin’s monumental set which Mills clambers up and down at various points during the play’s two-and-a-half-hour duration

Presented by the Tiata Fahodzi company and Tara Finney Productions in association with Watford Palace Theatre, Kene’s play reveals a timely microcosm of a forgotten community, where sometimes being good is hard. It suggests too that if pushed hard enough, those on the receiving end will find some kind of common ground, and those doing the pushing shouldn’t be too surprised when they bite back.