SEAN TYRONE | THEATRE REVIEW

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.

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