Watford Palace Theatre
Reviewed – 1st February 2019
“Kwaku Mills gives a commendable spirited performance holding the audience in the palm of his hand”
A new production of Arinzé Kene’s hard-hitting yet delicate 2017 play, Good Dog, seems as relevant as ever. Although set in the Noughties and inspired by the 2011 London riots, the themes of frustration and social injustice still ring true. Told in an elongated monologue form, through the eyes of a fast growing teenage boy, a multi-cultural community is seen at breaking point. He witnesses the struggles with crime, poverty, addictions and infidelity that cripples his neighbours. With raging energy and surprising chuckle-out-loud observational humour, this powerful piece of storytelling shows what happens when all hope is lost and life is full of disappointment.
Kwaku Mills gives a commendable spirited performance holding the audience in the palm of his hand single-handedly for over two hours. He moves with dexterity through the different stages of the boy’s life. Transitioning from a naive and opportunistic young teen, to a hardened and disenchanted adult, who finds out the hard way that no good comes from being good in this world.
A large, black, wooden, slatted cube dominates the stage (set design Amelia Jane Hankin), representing such places as the balcony of the boy’s high rise home, the corner shop or train platform that makes up the bleak microcosm. Mills plays and interacts with the cube as if it is another character, becoming an integral partner in the story.
Helen Skiera’s sound design helps to flesh out the performance. The voices of the community the boy observes drips out through the speakers, painting a multi-cultural picture of a down-trodden forgotten pocket of the capital. It was unfortunate that some of this dialogue was missed due to the sound being far too quiet.
Arinzé Kene’s penetrating and quick-witted colloquial writing, feels authentic and tangible. It’s storytelling of the everyday man, for the everyday man. At times it can feel dense and borderline self-indulgent, yet this is a tale that holds an honest mirror up to the world, proving to be a vital piece of theatre. Telling a truth about London life that needs to be witnessed more on stage.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Wasi Daniju
Watford Palace Theatre until 2nd February then touring UK
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Watford Palace Theatre
Reviewed – 14th March 2018
“a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting”
One of Arthur Miller’s later plays, “Broken Glass”, written in 1994, is as rich and deeply moving as any of his earlier, better known works. Set in 1938, in the context of ‘Kristallnacht’ (the ‘night of broken glass’), it focuses on a Jewish couple living in New York and juxtaposes the personal breakdown of their marriage with the far-off effects of the anti-Jewish outbreaks in pre-war Germany in a challenging and painfully honest way.
Phillip and Sylvia Gellburg are living increasingly separate lives. Phillip is obsessed with getting ahead, in a real estate company where he is the only Jew. Sylvia is disturbed by the news of Kristallnacht from Germany. In a single night, the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes and businesses, smashing windows and burning synagogues. Haunted by these images in the New York newspapers, she suffers a mysterious paralysis and is unable to move from the waist down. Diagnosed as a psychosomatic reaction by the popular and attractive Dr Harry Hyman, it soon becomes clear that the causes are somewhat more complex.
Michael Matus gives a quite stunning portrait of Phillip; a man uncomfortable in his own skin. Self-loathing and withdrawn he is constantly fighting the temptation to blame himself for his wife’s disability. Matus skilfully shows us how his own anxieties are just as crippling as his wife’s physical immobility. His guilt, coupled with sexual impotence, gives rise to frightening bouts of anger that, later on in the play, betray a tender vulnerability and need for forgiveness.
Amy Marston has to be applauded for her portrayal of the neglected wife. A late replacement to the cast, she conveys a sensitivity and sensuality that still manage to pack a punch. There is also a strong current of sexuality that is only aroused in the presence of the doctor: a relaxed, assured and natural performance from Michael Higgs. An outsider to the marriage he worms his way in nonetheless.
Simon Kenny’s translucent set adds an edgy claustrophobia to proceedings, and encased within the tarnished glass walls is cellist Susie Blankfield. Ed Lewis’ grief-laden score accentuates the production, adding a real emotive power.
“Broken Glass” is not a political play. The events surrounding ‘Kristallnacht’ are, in fact, reduced to a backdrop, but it is a profoundly important drama, and totally riveting – particularly in the second act when the couple confront each other’s raw emotions. The production is further heightened by an equally strong supporting cast who all tread carefully around the action as if walking on broken glass; towards an unforgettable finale that achingly lays bare the true nature of forgiveness.
I hope this show makes the transfer into town, but if not it is well worth venturing out to Watford to catch it while you can.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by The Other Richard
Watford Palace Theatre until 24th March