Good Dog - Interview with Director Natalie Ibu
14 January 2019
Can you begin by telling us what the play is about and why you decided to produce it?
For me, good dog is about the people and places who make you who you are. I first encountered the play in 2014, just after Arinzé Kene had powered out the first draft - written whilst on attachment at the National Theatre Studio and started with a desire to imagine what drove his friends and his community to riot – in London and beyond. What struck me about the play was it felt like a chronicle of a multicultural community and the people and geography that leave their fingerprints on your life. good dog is an astonishingly written monologue following a 13 year old boy – our narrator – over many years. It’s about community, about growing up in a multicultural borough, about trauma and about what happens when you lose faith in being good. I think, ultimately, it’s a celebration of the resilience of people.
We at tiata fahodzi are in the business of multiplying the singular narratives that exist about so many of us and championing stories we don’t normally get to see. I felt that we didn’t often get to see the multicultural characters that Arinzé writes in the way he imagines them - as fully realised, living and breathing honest characters who are more than a stereotype, more than a shortcut. This play goes back in time to the early noughties but rather than feel nostalgic, it feels vital as we face similarly difficult times - when the UK's ethnic and class divides have rarely felt as wide. 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.
What themes does the show explore?
good dog is a true epic - spanning multiple streets, characters, families and years. 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.
How do you prepare to direct a play like that?
Researching the play 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. I read a brilliant book Out of the Ashes: Britain after the Riots by David Lammy. I also read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates which is a brilliant memoir-cum-poetry-cum-letter-cum-essay on being a black boy and man in America. I started with the themes and always ended up somewhere thrilling and, sometimes, random but it’s about exploring all the different angles and textures of the play. I watched a lot of TV - Fleabag and Chewing Gum have elements of monologue structure (and both started as theatre monologues), Channel 4’s award-winning Run, Eastenders (which Arinzé was also in) for it’s localness, This is England for it’s nostalgia and web series like #HoodDocumentary. Each rehearsal process is bespoke and particular but this one is more unique because it’s just one actor and me (plus a great team including a stage manager and assistant director) so I spent 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’s been like training for a marathon!
You're the Artistic Director of tiata fahodzi. Can you tell us a bit about the company?
tiata fahodzi is a national touring theatre company – so we’ll come to you – and was founded in 1997, committed to telling stories about the African diaspora in Britain. I took over the company at the end of 2014 and was particularly interested in exploring the developing diaspora because it felt like the diaspora was changing but the stories weren’t. What it means to be African and/or British is different now to 1997 and different for different people in different places. We refuse to oversimplify the African diaspora - limiting us to being foreign, different and other – and, instead, relish in the complexities and all the different versions of being a British African. We’re particularly interested in exploring the mixed experience because Britain is full of people – whether African heritage or not – who feel in the middle, a bit of everything and yet somehow nothing at all. I like to think of us as being champions of multicultural Britain because, for an African heritage person in Britain, the experience is multi – rather than mono – cultured.
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. In good dog , we meet an Indian middle aged shopkeeper, a Caribbean father and son, gangs of multicultural boys and girls, a Jamaican hairdresser, a Ghanian uncle, a Nigerian single mother, a mixed race girl and yet they share so much - they share place and are all part of each other’s experience of being British.
Good Dog by Arinzé Kene runs from the 31 Jan - 2 February, click here for more information