Sean Tyrone

Company of Sirens , Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff, June 15th, 2011 , June 23, 2011
Sean Tyrone by Company of SirensMuch-missed Cardiff playwright, Mark Ryan, who died earlier this year, described Sean Tyrone as his “Expressionist play”. It does indeed feature many of the striking Expressionist qualities of plays such as Buchner’s Woyzeck – the jagged fractured narrative, heightened dialogue, the looming presence of death and the naïve bewildered young hero struggling to make sense of a grotesque, often cruel world. The music, also composed by Ryan, is a vital element in this play, every bit as important as the spoken dialogue. Much of the narrative is delivered in short, punkish songs while the two musicians provide an atmospheric, haunting musical undercurrent throughout. Ryan has set the play in the South Wales of the coal-mining boom and the rural Ireland of economic migrants.

Director Chris Durnall has realised the Expressionist style of the writing beautifully in this Company of Sirens production. The only naturalistic character is Jack, a young Irishman who comes to South Wales in search of his lost father, the sinister Sean Tyrone of the title. There is a light autobiographical touch here with Mark Ryan having crossed the Irish Sea himself to settle in Cardiff. 

Jack alone talks directly to the audience, while the other actors transform from character to character as the story unfolds, drawing Jack into scenes that lead him ultimately to the strange, destroyed mining village where his father had met his end. These characters are brought to life in a grotesque, often comic style that is perfectly judged, stylised but always convincing. This is pushed further by their ghoulishly painted faces and ragged costumes that are almost but never quite clown-like. Jack, in contrast, is played straight – but equally effectively – by Liam James.

The production also has a Brechtian feel with its almost bare stage and actors slipping in and out of characters. The scenes merge into each other, linked by the music, by Jack’s anxious addresses to the audience and by the evocative black and white film footage running silently behind them. In addition to the music, beautifully played by Bethan Morgan and Philip Michell, the piece is also visually stylish and striking, with well choreographed movement and memorable stage imagery. It is skilfully directed by Chris Durnall with fine performances by the six-strong cast. 

Lynn Hunter is totally convincing as Jack’s mother, setting his journey in motion with her dying wish that he seek out his father, and in a disturbing cameo as his unfortunate sister. Angharad James is dangerously seductive as a succubus-like character who targets Jack. Dafydd Wyn Roberts and Robert Harper bounce off each other superbly, at times resembling a darkly comic double-act as they alternately taunt and hoodwink the innocent Jack, often joined by Bethan Morgan who moves from musician to character with seamless versatility. This is a bold and accomplished production, a theatrical experience that is a tribute to the memory of Mark Ryan, a writer and musician who will be much missed.

Reviewed by: Tim Rhys


Chapter, Cardiff
Sat 18 June
Like all good traditional tales, Mark Ryan’s Sean Tyrone is coiled tightly around themes of lust, birth and revenge. Its delicious phrasing tempts you to cling onto every utterance and its dark and gripping themes constantly express a great debt to the oral narrative tradition. In short, Sean Tyrone just begs to be passed on, proving that the need for storytelling is still very much alive within us.

But in the criminally rich Sean Tyrone, it’s not just stories that run through the generations. A deep and uncanny sense of ancestral guilt and bitterness is also strongly felt. As loyal Jack travels from Ireland to the Welsh Valleys to follow in his father’s footsteps, he is coaxed and manipulated by three anachronistic shape-shifters who exploit his every regret and desire. Throughout, numerous tensions are constantly present with the most striking being that between the now and then. This tension is far from simplistic. Naive and determined, Jack provides the fleshy embodiment of now. However this focus is complicated by parallels made to Jack’s allusive father, foregrounding a link to the past which seems impossible to sever.

Against this cruel flux, the uncanny trio play on their temporal swing. One wears the now-tatty clothes of a former ringmaster, another is dressed in a garish red basque and the third stumbles along with a missing shoe. Together, they hint at what was once a great show. Now, with an animalistic urgency, they claw at Jack’s clothing, instantly recognising the rare scent of something new. As taunting sentences escape from their crudely painted lips, these unsettling beings evoke the problem of regression, painting troubled pictures of how we come to understand our ancestors. Now, all that remains of yesterday’s glamour is a faded pride, framed by backcombed hair, missing shoes and ripped jeans.

The production’s dazzling musicality and chilling playfulness entertains as much as it unnerves. Twisting words against the backdrop of bold, clashed notes and progressive echoes of Balkan folk, the trio wields a manipulating power over language. This power, in turn, is used to manipulate Jack. Pregnant with a devilish exploration of what was lost, what can never be found and what would be better forgotten, Sean Tyrone is a nightmare from which you don’t want to wake.