The Midnight Court

Midnight1-300x300In 1780 Brian Merriman wrote ‘Cúirt an Mheán Oíche’. After Frank O’Connor translated it into English in 1945, the work was banned by the Irish Censorship Board. The forgetfulness of a tourist led Seán Tyrrell to stage David Marcus’s translation regarded as the hit of the Galway Arts Festival with a cast of eleven in 1992 produced by Druid Theater Company. It has gone on to tour with more than 150 performances throughout Ireland. Now with a cast of two Seán has taken it to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 and embarked on a tour of Ireland which will continue on into 2009 with a trip to the USA in Autumn. It is off to California in September of 2012.

As true today as when it was first written centuries ago, timeless, taking a swipe at celibacy and political corruption.. The scandal of Bishop Casey hit the headlines while the production was still in rehearsal so the timing seemed predestined. During a subsequent run in Galway beginning on Good Friday, the show was deemed controversial and was taken right out of the league of “just another show” when the national newspapers took up the Protestant ministers’ objection to its performance during Easter time.

The poet falls asleep and dreams he has been put on trial by the women in his life. It is a very gutsy piece, bawdy in parts without being offensive. The story line carries the audience along, with loads of humour, earthy lyrics, and a very feminine message considering the poem and music were written by two men. This is an Aisling poem; a dream poem but unlike any other. This is no Eire in the guise of fair young maidens come to redress political oppression but an ugly bailiff whose main concern is sex. It is not England who is the oppressor but the men of Ireland who are not up to the job. Tyrrell pulls no punches while having great fun with the overtly sexual dimension of “The Midnight Court”, with no respect for stereotypes and affirming in uncompromising fashion the rights of women to wholesome sex.

A potent musical adaptation presents this classic 18th century Irish poem in a contemporary setting. Heady mix of Celtic blues, hilarious, boisterous, risqué, irreverent. A litany of sexual scenarios sung in styles veering from traditional to calypso. The show runs about 1 hour and 15 minutes

“The poem was given a dramatic presentation with all the boost and blast-off that song and music and topical allusion can provide. The psychosexual demons were no longer at bay but rampant and fully recognized. Orpheus had been re-membered in Ireland” Seamus Heaney – Nobel Poet Laureate

“Sean Tyrrell’s rich musical settings were a continuing delight, while he carried off the chief acting honors.” Paddy Woodworth – Irish Times

“Sean Tyrrell plays Mandolin, Mando cello, Banjo, and Tenor guitar disguised it seems as Leon Redbone. The music a light mix of Celtic blues with an encompassing palette for pastiche.” Ian Hill – The Guardian


By Bill Dunlop 14 August 2008

“The Midnight Court” to those not blessed with an understanding of the Irish tongue, is a bold jeu d’esprit in which the language of saints and scholars is booted up the backside with Father Jack alacrity. The original of Brian Merriman has had several translators, though the version of this production by David Marcus speeds along delightfully.

Sean Tyrell’s musical settings are drawn from a wide range of styles, from the traditional to swing band, and includes a wonderful moment when “The Sash” encounters “Viva Espania.” “The Midnight Court” itself is a tremendous snoot-cock at antiquarian pietas, a complaint by the women of Ireland about the lack of luster among their men-folk in the bedroom department. Cheeky, bawdy and occasionally touching by turns. A range of instruments adds to the variety, including more citterns than this reviewer has heard employed together (or rather consecutively) in quite some time.

The poem’s arguments, for genuinely lusty women against crabbed and timid males, for procreation and against priestly celibacy caused several versions (in English) to be banned by the Irish government censor as late as 1945.

The paintings which form the set, selected and presented by Pauline Bewick, are a joy, and it’s good to discover Pete Ashton illuminating in Edinburgh again. The company is owed thanks for bringing this neglected classic to new and wider audiences.

Demarco European Art Foundation . Edinburgh 24/8/08

“Truly an amazing performance last night. A Masterpiece” Richard Demarco CBE OBE.

“The best night I’ve had for years in or out of bed was in Flagmount in East Clare last summer. The pleasure out of bed came courtesy mainly of Sean Tyrrell. I motored down from Derry for the production of Brian Merryman’s classic The Midnight Court, set to music by Sean. It was boisterous, colorful, risqué, raunchy, hilarious, melodious, and was sexy.” Eamonn Mc Cann – HotPress


“Tyrrell gives it an easy syncopated rhythm lulling us into the story. It’s like The Jerry Springer Show but sung in rhyme. Tyrrell is as irreverent as Merryman is with social mores and together they take us through a delicious litany of sexual scenarios sung in styles that veer from calypso to gospel, from Thin Lizzy to Clannad.” Colin Murphy – Village

“This is, in fact, a musical, a sort of poetical opera given a definite dramatic shape and vividly counterpoised.” Fred Johnson – Galway Advertiser