Sean Scanlon

Sean Scanlan: The Stuff of Life

At drama school, one of the key lessons we learnt was to form your own ideas and theatrical tastes you had to watch and engage with as many forms of theatre as you could.
It was on one of my many student trips to the theatre that I visited the Donmar Warehouse to see The Life of Stuff by Simon Donald. This was before the Donmar became the star-laden hothouse that attracted Gwyneth Palthrow and Nicole Kidman and way before the time when the Donmar’s artistic director, Sam Mendes, was to helm the latest Bond movie.

This particular play was set in a gangland Scotland and featured the sort of cast (Douglas Henshall, Forbes Masson, Stuart McQuarrie and Mabel Aitken) that many a director would give their right teeth for now.
This show was the first time I saw Sean Scanlan on stage. He had a gift for language, was totally “grounded” and possessed a real hutzpah that made him a compelling and exciting performer.
On leaving drama school, I marked out Sean as someone I wanted to direct, and subsequent engagement with his high quality work only fuelled this ambition further. However, touring theatre is not always attractive for performers and my first few attempts at luring Sean onto a “Rapture” stage were politely and warmly declined. 

Early last year, I was looking to cast the part of “Uncle” Herbert Wehner in Rapture’s production of Democracy by Michael Frayn. I felt that the part required a performer who had gravitas and an aura of a wily old fox. I made a tentative approach to Sean’s agent and sent him the script. Great news –he loved the play and the part!
Working with Sean on Democracy lived up to all my hopes and expectations. He was warm, generous and threw himself into the project with gusto. He had an energy that belied his mature years, and he possessed very much “the stuff of life”. Despite being in a strong cast of ten, Sean stood out. He simply could not avoid this. He caught the passion and precision of his character, and this resonated across the footlights and pulled the audience in.

I met him after the tour finished for a coffee and catch up. He spoke warmly about his experience on Democracy and was looking forward to his next job: working with his beloved Barbara on a revival of Cuttin’ a Rug. Unfortunately he had to withdraw from this project when his stricken condition took hold.
But Sean was an optimist and a bullish fellow. In our last conversation, over the Christmas period, he was determined to overcome his illness. I reminded him how much he was appreciated and loved and how Scottish theatre needs him on its stages. I told him that I was keen to repeat the experience of working with him as soon as he was available.

It was not meant to be.

There are people who were closer to Sean and knew him for longer than I, but I will always hold precious the time I had working with him.

Thanks again Sean for that inspiring performance I saw as a student and for the inspiring time I spent with you.

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