good dog: interview with arinzé kene
Can you tell us a bit about good dog?
good dog is a play about a boy who believes being good means that good things will come. As he gets older, he starts to realize that life is more complex than that and we follow his story as this affects him. He becomes quite disillusioned by the fact that the world is different to the way that he was told that it would be. He struggles to make sense of what’s happening around him. The story is told through his eyes.
Do you find it easy to put it all down on paper?
good dog specifically wasn’t easy to put down, it never is actually. I feel like its conception was in 2011 during the Tottenham Riots. That’s when I made my first few notes about it. Over the years, I just added a few more notes into this file that I had. Lots of notes I had written down were stemmed from the frustration behind the riots. I had to try and figure out why I had grouped these feeling and stories. I think writing good dog was a way of counselling myself as to what had happened.
good dog chronicles Britain’s multicultural communities and the everyday injustices that drive people to take back control. What initially inspired you to write the play?
When I was in school I got in trouble with another kid and we both were sent to the headmaster’s office. This other boy’s family were well off and he was very articulate. I couldn’t speak very well at all, especially when I was getting in trouble. I was young, and I didn’t know any older white people, at all, not one. All my uncles and aunties were black. [This kid] could freely talk his way out of it, and I couldn’t and it really frustrated me. I didn’t know what to do about it, and where to put my energy. So, I stood up, I threw my chair back, and I just walked out of the room and slamming the door behind me. It was the first time I’d done anything like that – I was head boy at my secondary school! I did it because I found that in the moment there was no other alternative. What I had to do was decode that moment and look at what [had] happened. I saw that I felt oppressed like I wasn’t understood. I felt indignation within me, and that’s what Boy feels in that moment when he does the same thing. I had to go through a process of not telling my story, but telling THE story.
good dog stars the brilliant Anton Cross as Boy, did you ever consider taking on the role yourself?
I’ve never been in anything that I’ve written. I think when you throw yourself into the mix, you might be asking for trouble! I think that if an element of the character is me, that would be the only way I could be in something. I have written something, and I will perform it at some point…
You recently starred in the BAFTA nominated film The Pass with Russell Tovey – which do you prefer, acting or writing?
It’s tough. I can’t decide because every job is completely different. For example, the difference between writing for the stage and writing for television is as different as acting and writing! They’re so different, and then you have the finer differences between being in this play and that play. I could never choose.
The show is told through the one voice of Boy but features many different characters that he is surrounded by in his community, what made you decide to write this play as a monologue?
The first reason why was because that’s the way it came out. I tried to override the monologue on about two or three occasions as I wanted to write this as a traditional play. Then I’d go back to it and it would be flat. You have to write what the play wants to be. The play dictates that for you, and you have to serve the idea.
What do you hope the audience will take away from good dog?
Aristotle theorised that if you’ve written a good story about a tragic hero, the audience should walk away and feel enlightened. It’s a form of therapy; it’s relieving to be simple. Right now, a lot of people are walking around with fear and anxiety because of what is happening in the world. I hope that in times like this, someone who’ll come see good dog will learn a little bit about me, and people like me. To feel a little bit better about life, and know a little bit more about us as humans and mankind.