Mon 12th – Sat 24th August 2013


Hazel Rowland

at 09:31 on 16th Aug 2013



For a group of students, the team behind ‘Strangeways’ are incredibly sympathetic to the aged. The play follows Dot, an elderly Mancunian (Ellie Scanlan), and her new carer Sam (Annabel Thomsom), as Dot receives a visit from her dead husband Vinny (Dan Tunstall). This is a moving and highly polished production by the University of Manchester Drama Society, helped massively by its strong cast.

Thanks to Joshua Val Martin’s script, the relationship between the characters is fully explored. Martin crucially does not put too much into the play – it is not full of unnecessary action, and melodrama fails to get a look in. Instead, under his direction, Martin is very happy to let conversation play itself out. This is ultimately far more truthful than any meaningless events, a mistake that amateur productions often fall foul of.

With such gloomy subject matter, Martin does well to include some short moments of humour while still remaining sensitive to Dot’s condition. Scanlan’s imitation of Thomson’s kindly meant but patronising comments gives slight humorous relief. But most of the time, their relationship is fraught with tension, such as during their argument over Dot taking her pills. Scanlan’s rant in response reveals much about Dot: it is her against the world, and she frustratingly cannot do anything about it. However, especially telling are the awkward silences between them, which neither actor is afraid of exploiting.

In contrast to Dot’s relationship with Sam, her one with her imagined, or hallucinated, dead husband Vinny is disturbing. From the outset, their relationship is strained, plagued by a strange mixture of love and hatred. Immediately it throws up questions: is she angry with him? What has he done? When Tunstall declares “I loved ya”, far from being heart-felt, it sounds menacing and slimy. It is not just the way he speaks but how he prowls around the stage that is so threatening. Even when Dot is talking to Sam, and Vinnie is pushed to the background, there is still a chilling sense of him lurking behind, scrutinizing Dot’s every move.

‘Strangeways’ is a powerfully emotional journey, held together by a strong cast. Scanlan’s portrayal of Dot should be highly applauded, as she forces her audience to understand her loneliness. It is the most important aspect in making the play work, as her situation is something few of us can relate to – yet.


Frank Lawton

at 11:24 on 16th Aug 2013



Despite needing to go for a stiff drink as soon as ‘Strangeways’ was over, I was nonetheless glad to have witnessed its performance. The title (the name of a Manchester prison, as well as its more literal significance) is a giveaway that things will not run smoothly and, accordingly, time periods are first blended and then, in an increasingly sinister fashion, sabotaged by one another.

What at first seems to be just an elderly lady, Dot (Ellie Scanlan), taking us on a sorry, nostalgic memory trip while unpacking her boxes in her new home soon takes a much darker direction. The descent into bleaker memories is skilfully managed and timed by the smart script to draw out the full truth of Dot’s past (and present) with a slow, dramatic precision.

Sounds a tough watch doesn’t it? Well yes, for parts it is, but there is also a considerable degree of humour running in the show’s varicose veins. For example, like many a decaying mind, Dot still clings to a solid understanding of the socio-political set-up, as she amply demonstrates when she indignantly declares that "I’m entitled to take a shit on the pavement, like everyone else, cos I pay my taxes". We could all learn a lesson or two from Dot. It feels like, if we did begin to talk to her, we would actually be speaking to a sixty-something lady, as opposed to a character played by a twenty year old, such is the quality of Scalan’s performance. She manages to pull off the little gestures, movements and ticks that can characterise the elderly with remarkable aplomb.

Scanlan also captures Dot’s growing sense of paranoia and fear when her dead husband arrives on the scene, the sneering, sinister Vinny (Dan Tunstall), although their early interactions lack conviction when we later realise the significance of Vinny and their relationship. Annabel Thomson is also excellent, embodying both the face of calmly pressing institutional control in the form of Samantha, Dot’s designated psychiatrist, and later as the snide, arrogant sister Dot loathes.

The stage is symmetrically arranged to enable a sensitive use of spotlights and filtered light to initially make clearer the boundaries between reality and memory, with Vinny and Samantha sitting upstage on opposite sides while the central mind we inhabit sits, suitably, centre stage. Later, the lighting is used to blur the boundaries it first seemed to define, bathing the stage in an unsettling blue-grey smear of light for multiple phases.

The final scenes explicitly present memory as a viscerally violent force, leaving the audience unnerved. Well worth a trip, as long as there’s a pub nearby.


Audience Avg.

0 votes, 0 comments

Click here for more event information

cast involved

other events on

Version 0.3.7a