From the moment Jez Butterworth’s play The Ferryman begins, it’s clear that music will play a significant role in the story: two of the central characters strut and dance in a clearly sexually-tense duet to the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” so emphatically that they end up setting a lamp on fire.
The play — which tells the story of a vibrant Irish clan led by an ex-IRA member, and the mysterious apparent murder of one of its members, in the midst of the Troubles in the early 1980s — has become a hit on Broadway, with one of its most acclaimed performances coming from young British actor Tom Glynn-Carney. He plays Shane Corcoran, a not-quite-prototypical angry young man tempted to join the IRA — a role intrinsically tied to music as well, as his significant introductory moment onstage comes as he dances to the Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.”
In fact, Glynn-Carney always preps for his stage roles with a character-specific playlist. “I tend to zone in on music pretty early on in the process…even sometimes before I actually get a part, I start thinking about what kind of music the character might listen to,” Glynn-Carney says. “It’s useful to hone in on the kind of sound they’d like.”
Glynn-Carney spoke to Billboard about the tunes that informed his electric portrayal of Shane. Check out the breakdown below.
“Teenage Kicks,” The Undertones
“It tells a big story about where Shane comes from, geographically and emotionally,” Glynn-Carney says. “There’s such a teenage angst to it — sex and sweat and anxiety and lust and all those things that ooze out of your pores.” In the show, “it introduces Shane as a bit of a live wire. He’s a wild animal.”
“London Calling,” The Clash
The politically-tinged track is “another one to make you feel revengeful,” Glynn-Carney says.
“Anarchy in the UK,” Sex Pistols
The actor is a big fan of the Sex Pistols; in fact, during The Ferryman’s earlier London run, he dyed his hair red “to hammer home the fact that he’s punk and doesn’t give a shit. I always thought Shane was modeling himself somewhat after Johnny Rotten.”
“Black Velvet Band,” The Dubliners
The traditional Irish folk tune is, Glynn-Carney thinks, the kind of song Shane would have heard around the house growing up. “Music is a massive thing in Ireland,” he says. “Songs get passed on. There’s something really beautiful about that.”
“Street Fighting Man,” The Rolling Stones
A track central to the play’s action, and one that Glynn-Carney says “helps me dive into Shane being rough and ready.”
“Rap God,” Eminem
“The arrogance of [Eminem] in that song, it’s a great thing for Shane,” a character who has an attitude of “ ‘I can take on anyone right now, I know my argument, I know the cause — I’m gonna be a part of changing things.’”
“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Simon & Garfunkel
Definitely not punk, but still useful to Glynn-Carney. “Shane is a very complex, confused young man,” he says. The Simon & Garfunkel classic reminds him of a song his mother used to sing to him in the past. “It’s made me stop and listen and think. I think Shane is a thinker. He gets stuck in his head a little bit.”
This “really heavy dub-step track” is “like walkout music for a boxing match. you just put on your headphones and there you go.”
“Television Screen,” The Radiators From Space
The Irish band is a favorite of Glynn-Carney’s. “You can’t tell what they’re saying in the lyric — they’re just kind of shouting at you — but it’s very catchy and very easy to move to.”
“Stand and Deliver,” Adam and the Ants
Another character in the play is obsessed with the idea of meeting — and marrying — Adam Ant, but that had little to do with Glynn-Carney’s song choice. “It’s just a great song,” he says. “I was an Adam and the Ants fan before, and this one has always stood out.”