9 June 2021

Stray Dogs Interview

Stray Dogs is the debut play of writer Matt Wixey. The play is a  sharp, unflinching look by an ex-officer at pack mentality, and what it means to step out of line. The play has been in development since 2019, and was  originally scheduled for May 2020, but now the show is finally debuting at Brighton Fringe 2021.


I had the pleasure of speaking to Matt and the play's director Erica Miller and the producer Justin Treadwell. The production marks a debut for Justin's new production company, Anarchy Division.


Beyond The Curtain: Stray Dogs is a new piece that's been in development since 2019, can you tell more about the piece?

Matt Wixey: Stray Dogs is a two-hander play about the institution of the police, and the pack mentality that often comes with being a member of a police service. On a narrative level it's about a police misconduct investigator interviewing a veteran officer about an incident, in which a suspect was seriously injured in the back of a police van - the investigator is trying to find out what happened, and the officer is trying to protect himself - but at a deeper thematic level it's an exploration of what it means to adhere to that pack mentality, and what it means to be a 'stray' in a culture which prioritises uniformity and obedience. It started as a ten-minute play for a scratch night, and was then developed and workshopped into a longer piece.

Justin Treadwell: It’s been a long process bringing the show to the stage – we were originally planning to debut the piece as a work-in-progress at Brighton Fringe 2020. That didn’t happen, of course! But we’ve been continuously evolving and developing since then, and I’m really proud of what we’ve made. A lot of brilliantly talented people have brought their ideas and work to the piece all the way through the process, and we’re very grateful to everyone who’s been involved!


BTC: After spending so long in the police force, how did you decide to transition that into a play?


MW: I thought a story about police culture could make a good play, and one which my experiences could give some authenticity to. Of course some elements of it are fictional; others are true, or have been exaggerated or changed. What I thought was interesting when I started writing it is that there were very few examples of plays or programmes which look at the police as an institution - there's The Wire, of course, but that was in the early 2000s and very US-specific. Most of the work out there tends to be much more procedural in nature, which has never really appealed to me. So I thought there could be an opportunity there to tell a different story.


BTC: Has the show been influenced in any way by any of the big TV cop dramas of recent years (The likes of Line of Duty, The Bodyguard etc)?


MW: To some extent, yes, but only in the sense of not wanting the play to be anything like those dramas! Line of Duty and Bodyguard are great shows, but they’re also pure fantasy and escapism, and are often inaccurate in terms of the attitudes, events, and procedures depicted. They put out very mainstream and overly sensationalised ideas of what policing is like. Don't get me wrong, escapism definitely has its place as entertainment, but I was really keen to explore a different side of the police based on an insider's perspective - how a uniform and a shared institutional culture affect individuals, and can lead to incidents like those depicted in the play.

As a result, Stray Dogs is very deliberately small-scale and low-key - it is purely about the interplay between two characters and the collision (and occasional affinity) of two very different perspectives. Not an explosion, plot twist, or huge underworld conspiracy to be found!


The artwork for Stray Dogs.


BTC: As mentioned this piece is about the police force and the coppers involved within it, do you think recent world events have had an impact on the piece?


MW: To some extent, yes - and almost certainly in terms of how the play will be perceived and experienced. I tried to not make the piece explicitly a reaction to, or commentary on, those events, because I'm not sure that's a story I'm qualified or able to tell, but inevitably some comparisons will be made, and I don't think that's a bad thing. Stray Dogs is best seen as a contribution to a debate, I think, and whilst it doesn't explicitly refer to the murder of George Floyd or other real-life instances of police violence, it does examine some of the roots of an institutional culture in which things like that could then happen.

JT: Of course, we’ve consulted with sensitivity readers and dramaturgs over the course of the development - because there are moments that touch on themes of police brutality, discrimination etc, and we wanted to make sure we were including those honestly and respectfully. Equally, as Matt says, the piece is an examination of the kind of environments that can create those mindsets, not individual incidents – it’s an exploration of where and why that sets in on an institutional scale.

BTC: The show runs at Brighton Fringe and in London at the Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham, can you tell the audiences why they should come and see it?

Erica Miller: We often see the police at distance from us or as headline, but we don’t get close up like this- in all their messy glory. This - and great acting of Catherine Adams and Richard De Lisle -  is why you should come see it. 

MW: I wouldn't describe the play as an easy watch, but I hope that it raises some valid and important questions, and does so in an interesting way, from an insider's perspective.


Stray Dogs will open at the Brighton Fringe playing on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th June at 1.15pm at The Warren. Tickets at https://www.brightonfringe.org/whats-on/stray-dogs-147684/. The piece will also play at The Bread and Roses Theatre in London between 28th and 30th June. Tickets at https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/

I'd like to thank Justin, Matt and Erica for their time in discussing this play and I wish them all well for the run.

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