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Dog Days: Dundee-based BBC drama about homelessness, hope, and addiction stars emerging local talent

Dundee mum Shannon Allan is the shining star of Dog Days.

Dog Days, filmed in Dundee, stars Conor McCarron (of Neds fame), emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan, and Glasgow-based Hollywood actor Brian McCardie.
Dog Days, filmed in Dundee, stars Conor McCarron (of Neds fame), emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan, and Glasgow-based Hollywood actor Brian McCardie.

Dog Days is a six-part drama – filmed in Dundee – about a homeless street busker. Ahead of it airing on BBC iPlayer, Gayle Ritchie talks to the director and lead actor about the hard-hitting take on addiction.

It’s raw, gritty stuff, featuring a brutal assault with a crowbar and hammer. The chances are, you might feel a bit nauseous and uncomfortable watching some of it.

Dog Days is not the polished sort of drama you’d find in Hollywood. Rather, it’s an authentic, warts and all take on living rough and addiction on the streets of Dundee.

At the heart of the six-part BBC Scotland series is homeless busker Zoso, played by Neds star Conor McCarron.

He’s determined to take charge of his future, and battles to get his life back on track so he can be allowed to see his young daughter, played by the Glasgow actor’s real-life two-year-old, Bonnie.

Zoso’s busking skills reveal a stunning musical talent but the odds are not in his favour – until music lecturer Grace, played by Lois Chimimba, hears him perform.

The search for hope and a better life is told with gutsy humour, energy and soul. Ultimately, it’s about the power of love and redemption – a feelgood drama mixed with a good dollop of darkness.

Connor McCarron playing a homeless street busker on Dog Days.
Connor McCarron plays a homeless street busker.

Playing alongside Conor on the cast list is fellow Glasgow actor Brian McCardie, best known for playing TV baddies in Line of Duty and Time, as well as starring in Hollywood movies including Rob Roy, Speed 2: Cruise Control and The Ghost And Darkness.

But perhaps the shining star of Dog Days, certainly in director James Price’s mind, is emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan, who plays Laura, one of Zoso’s closest friends.

Shannon, 31, has no formal acting training – she’s simply a Dundee mum-of-one who blew away James during her audition.

Shannon Allan.
Emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan.

Gritty drama

Filming took place in Dundee last summer during a bin strike, which arguably added an extra layer of squalor to the already gritty drama. City landmarks including the V&A, City Square, Desperate Dan and the penguin sculptures pop up throughout, along with the “Conchie” (the old college building on Constitution Street), the Shelter housing centre and a notorious tunnel.

Glasgow-based James, dubbed the “Springburn Scorsese” for his ink-black short films, wanted the raw Dundee to shine through in his work.

That’s why he chose Shannon, rather than some professional actress from Glasgow, Edinburgh or further afield.

“She’s the heart and soul of this whole project,” he enthuses. “She was just electric. I can’t explain how naturally gifted she is.

“I really wanted to include authentic Dundee characters and she is definitely one of those. She just blew me away, and I think when people see her, they will be blown away, too.

“She’s an absolute angel. She’s such a good character. She never got nervous.”

Director James Price.
Director James Price.

James was super keen to see the actors make the roles their own, encouraging them to improvise wherever they deemed fit. That afforded them great freedom during filming, with both Conor and Shannon going off-script in several scenes.

There’s a tension between violence and romance that simmers throughout Dog Days, with tender, emotional moments pulling Zoso back from the brink of annihilation.

As with most of James’s films, the theme of toxic, destructive masculinity is a dominant and sinister presence, with unresolved fury threatening to sabotage all of Zoso’s dreams of starting afresh.


While sleeping rough, he takes a savage kicking from a menacing pimp and, out to seek bloody revenge, he heads to a hardware shop, where he buys a host of makeshift weapons including a crowbar and a hammer.

This marks a pivotal moment for the character – will he really go ahead and kill someone, as he threatens, or will he stop, think and take his chances as an unsigned singer-songwriter?

Without giving too much away, he has a first date, then goes on to become an unlikely internet sensation for his cover of Darlin’, a 1978 song by Glasgow’s Frankie Miller.

Connor in a chase scene on Dog Days.
Connor in a chase scene.

Balance of actors

It’s the balance of teaming up “non-actors” like Shannon with seasoned veterans like Brian McCardie that brings the project to life, says James.

“I’ve had a career so far working with a lot of non-trained actors, and Shannon is just so natural,” he reflects.

“I’d see some folk come for audition with fake Dundee accents, then they’d slip into posh Glasgow ones. I didn’t want that.

“Shannon had had a few small parts in music videos and short films but she was really raw, really electric.

“I really wanted things to hinge on this character. Shannon came to the audition with her five-week-old baby in a pram. She pushed it backwards and forwards. I knew I had the right person for the role.

“She’ll make people laugh and cry.”

Shannon on set of BBC drama Dog Days.
Shannon’s raw performance blew director James Price away.


James’s success as a writer-director has been hard-won. He didn’t go to film school and says he “kind of taught myself”, starting off by studying scripts he’d find online.

His first attempt at filmmaking was when he was around 11 years old. His parents bought him a video camera and off he went.

He gave up after he found making the opening credits to be a struggle, but at least he’d given it a bash.

James’s first “proper” film was Concrete & Flowers, which he made in 2014 with the help of Screen Education Edinburgh.

He was convinced it was terrible, and it lay buried for years.

However when Carolynne Sinclair Kidd from Hopscotch Films got her hands on it, she was so impressed, she encouraged him to reveal it to the world, which he did in 2019.

In the intervening years, he had written Dropping Off Michael, a harrowing chunk of Glasgow street violence, and then in 2019 came the autobiographical Boys Night.

Authentic dundonians

So why did James choose to set Dog Days in Dundee?

“Dundee was the one place that seemed to hit hardest, other than Glasgow,” he tells me.

“I was interested in Dundee, the scene and the mythology around it, and it seemed the perfect place to tell a story.

“I’d only known it as a director travelling through, so when I first worked here, I felt like a stranger walking round the town.

“But there’s just something about it that clicked with me. And it was really important that were some authentic, proper Dundonians in there.”

Filming of Dog Days for the BBC in town today.

Filming of Dog Days for the BBC in town today.

Posted by Dundee Today on Monday, 29 August 2022

A big talent

James has huge praise for Conor, describing him as a “real genius” and a “big talent”.

The two first met when Conor played a part in James’s short film, Boys Night, in 2019.

“We’ve done two shorts together since, but this is our first big project together,” he says.

“He could easily be in Peaky Blinders – he’s just so raw and talented.

“The chemistry Shannon and Conor had together, as Zoso and Laura, was just incredible. It was a beautiful, sort of childlike, platonic friendship.

Conor with director James.
Conor with director James.

“Genuinely the whole project is carried on Conor and Shannon’s shoulders. It wouldn’t work if one of them was recast.

“I’ve never met actors better at improvisation. They were really quick, just thinking as the characters. You could see it in their faces.”

On the subject of Zoso, he says the character is a “bit of a paradox”.

“He’s had a tough time – a lot of people he knows have passed,” James explains.

“He’s got a lot of musical talent, and he finds himself caught between these two worlds.

“Things escalate when he arrives in Dundee, but ultimately it’s about redemption.

“I write for character and feel his character is 70% me and 30% my older brother.

“These kind of characters want to reject you before you reject them. They’ll kill the opposition before the opposition has a chance to kill them.”

Dog Days are Over

When I tell James I’ve been singing Florence + the Machine’s Dog Days are Over since I started thinking about his new drama, he laughs.

But why Dog Days, I ask?

“It’s sort of like ‘dog days of summer’,” he explains.

“There’s also the phrase ‘every dog’s had its day’, and that kind of fitted with the story. It signifies the end of the chapter and the beginning of another.”

A scene from Dog Days.
A scene from Dog Days.

While James says there’s “nothing concrete” coming up work-wise, he hints he’s got a host of TV projects waiting in the wings.

“I’m a bit overwhelmed – my main focus is on how people will react to Dog Days!”

He needn’t have worried – it had its world premiere at Glasgow Film Festival last month and went down a storm.

Scottish sets

“Even after Dog Days, I want to make stuff around Scotland,” he says. “There’s not enough being done outwith Glasgow and Edinburgh – everything seems to be set there.

“But we proudly say there’s not one scene in Dog Days that’s not been filmed in Dundee.”

He’s keen to consider Aberdeen as a film location, adding: “I feel we need to shine the spotlight somewhere else. I feel there’s a really interesting noir film that could be made in Aberdeen. It has a distinct, really cinematic feel to it.”

We better keep our eyes peeled…

Shannon – raw talent

For former care worker Shannon it’s been something of a whirlwind.

She had barely given birth to her daughter, Isla, when she auditioned for the part of Laura. Her experience of acting was minimal – she’d appeared in a few of her friend Stephen Grant’s music videos but hadn’t had any training.

“I’d just had my baby when Stephen phoned and asked if I’d be interested in doing some filming,” she recalls.

“It’s not something I’d usually do. It’s completely out my comfort zone. But I wanted to set an example for Isla.

“Even though I was absolutely terrified, I knew I couldn’t encourage her to push herself in the future if I couldn’t do it myself.”

Dog Days stars Conor McCarron (of Neds fame), emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan, and Glasgow-based Hollywood actor Brian McCardie.
Dog Days, filmed in Dundee, stars Conor McCarron (of Neds fame), emerging Dundee talent Shannon Allan, and Glasgow-based Hollywood actor Brian McCardie.

Keeping it real

Isla was just five weeks old when Shannon turned up for the audition at Shelter Scotland with her wee one in tow.

“James told me he’d had a few people audition for Laura but he wanted someone real,” she says.

“He told me he thought our Dundee accents are mad! People do say we’ve got our own language, so hopefully viewers will ‘get’ it!”

It’s not something I’d usually do. It’s completely out my comfort zone.”


Initially, she found the whole experience hugely embarrassing.

“It just wasn’t my world,” she admits. “I feared people were going to laugh at me. But that wasn’t the case. Everybody was really friendly and encouraging.”

Shannon, who recently moved from Polepark to Charleston, was able to draw on her own life experiences and inject them into her portrayal of Laura.

“When I lost my best friend Jack to drugs, it affected my mental health,” she laments. “Not long after, I was diagnosed as being bipolar, and then fell pregnant.

“I try as much as possible to relate Laura’s character to myself – by exaggerating my own personality. That made it easier.

“Laura’s a bit of a troubled soul but she’s very loyal. It hit home a bit for me.

“The relationship I had with Jack was very much like Laura and Zoso’s. It resonates a lot.

“Laura’s quite outspoken – she tends to think before she speaks – and I used to be like that. So a lot of our personality traits are pretty similar – minus the addiction. She’s pretty hyper with no filter.

“It’s a brother and sister friendship but there’s a lot of love and loyalty there, too.”

Future career

Could there be a career in film for Shannon?

“I’d love that,” she beams. “I really enjoyed it, once I’d got over the anxiety and saw how encouraging people were, telling me I was good. Everyone really makes you feel at ease.”

Shannon, who wore her own sky blue jumper and shorts combo while filming, is convinced everyone who watches Dog Days will take away their own messages from it.

“It depends on your own life experience,” she says.

“It’s about so many things – the addiction side of things, the fun, the naivety, the emotional, sad side of things, too. There’s feelgood and there’s darkness.

“I think a lot of people will be able to relate to the story.”

A track that features throughout Dog Days is the 90s anthem Set You Free by N-Trance.

“It makes sense when it comes to the ending,” grins Shannon. “But I don’t want to give too much away!”

  • Dog Days debuts on BBC iPlayer on April 7, and will appear on BBC Scotland at a later date.