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The man in the Middle

Actor Daniel Ryan told David Hennessy about his new play that examines a relationship that has come to a crossroads, the enduring success of ITV drama The Bay and why he found he had found his ‘tribe’ when visiting Ireland.

Whether his name is familiar to you or not, you are sure to have seen Daniel Ryan act in something.

He has three decades’ worth of screen acting credits and is currently part of ITV’s hugely successful crime drama The Bay.

Daniel is preparing to star in David Eldridge’s Middle at The National Theatre.

Following Beginning, which launched at the NT in 2017 before transferring to the West End and Dublin’s Gate Theatre and told the story of the beginning of a relationship, Middle is the second of three Eldridge plays to explore love and relationships.

It tells the story of a couple who have come to something of a crossroads.

Middle is not a sequel as such as it is concerned with a different couple.

Middle sees Gary, played by Daniel, find his wife Maggie, played by Claire Rushbrook, heating some milk at the break of dawn.

Gary wonders what she is doing out of bed. It is clearly time for an honest conversation but how much honesty can their marriage take?

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Polly Findlay, who directed Beginning, is once again at the helm.

Daniel told The Irish World that he believes people will come away from the play reflecting on some big questions.

Daniel told us: “Somehow David Eldridge has managed to capture something that every single person can relate to.

“It’s like somebody has spied on your innermost thoughts or things that have happened in your relationships.

“As an experience in the theatre, I don’t think you will have seen anything quite as raw and passionate and funny and heartbreaking for quite some time.

Daniel in rehearsals with co- star Claire Rushbrook. Credit: Johan Persson.

“It was thrilling. It felt was real. It felt completely relatable.

“As often happens with a great piece of writing, by page ten, you’re like, ‘I cannot believe I’ve been offered this job’.

“I understood it. There were several things that have happened in my life or related to things that have happened in my life or conversations that I’ve had.

“And it seems through the rehearsal period, we have all sat there and gone, ‘This happened to me’.

“It’s been a very open process, people telling very personal stories about things that have happened to them in relationships.

“Hopefully it will be a talking point for an audience.

“It will be an experience where you possibly feel that you shouldn’t be party to because it’s so private, what’s going on between these two people.

“Some of it is sort of embarrassing to watch. Some of it is hilariously funny to watch and hopefully it will cause a conversation on the tube on the way home.”

Middle sees two people start to ask the big questions such as, ‘Am I happy?’

“I think it’s about as close as a lot of people might get to having a window into their marriages, into their homes, the hopes, the dreams and fears and the things that might have been, the things that could be, the things that you’d rather hadn’t happened and the things that you want to happen.

“It’s just that conversation that has been bubbling under in, in any relationship that has found its way out into the open air at four o’clock in the morning when somebody says, ‘What’s wrong?’

“The last five, six weeks of rehearsal, I’ve got home exhausted, more tired than I’ve ever been rehearsing any play ever, and it’s not a physical play.

“It’s purely the emotional journey of this.”

A two hander, the show rests squarely on the shoulders of Daniel and his co-star so it is just as well that he and Claire Rushbrook were playing husband and wife as far back as 2001.

“I’m very fortunate with Claire.

“We played husband and wife in a TV show 21 years ago when we were very young, a comedy series called Linda Green on the BBC.

“We played a loving couple in it so we’ve been friends for 21 years.

“We did a show called Home Fires six, seven years ago now and we rekindled our friendship, and then this was completely by chance.

“Nobody knew in the casting process. They had no idea that we knew each other so we’ve got a 20 year history that we can draw upon.

“I don’t have to imagine what she looked like when she was 25, I was there so it’s a really nice sort of lucky chance thing that has happened, and it means that we trust each other implicitly.

“We did from the word go so it’s a very supportive rehearsal room and it’s been very comfortable to explore all these things that are quite uncomfortable to explore.”

Is it a timely play as we come out of pandemic which gave many the chance to reflect on their lives and relationships? “Absolutely.

“It’s been a very, very difficult time for people.

“People who pass like ships in the night because of their jobs and how busy they are with their lives had that time to sit down.

“For some families it was a wonderful.

“But I think for some relationships, it was claustrophobic because people just hadn’t spent that amount of time together.

“I think it probably brought conversations to a head.

“I think it was the end of quite a lot of relationships, when they really had to kind of re-examine who they were together.

“And certainly that relates to this, this is two people examining the last 16 years of their life: Were they both on the same page when they started the relationship? And even if they had some fabulous times, was it everything that they wanted it to be?

“This play was meant to happen before any lockdowns but, quite seriously, I think it’s time is very much now.

“I think it’s a very, very timely thing to come and see.”

Lockdown was hard for Daniel but not for the same reasons that it was tough for other actors.

“We had a slightly different situation in my house.

“My son was unwell, he was undergoing chemotherapy so we were completely and utterly isolated and if there had have been work, I wouldn’t have been able to go to it anyway.

“I had 14 months out of work. I was skint. I was delivering for Amazon.

“It was possibly one of the worst times ever in my life in terms of financially, workwise, family, health. I lost a couple of relatives, it was a very, very difficult time.

“My son’s better. It was tough, but he’s doing great so we’re all out the other side.

“I’m back working, doing what I love.

“Hopefully, we’ll see the end of this terrible disease and a new, different way of living will come about.”

While now he may be known for playing DI Tony Manning in The Bay, Daniel’s credits go back to the 90s with early roles including the series Lipstick on your Collar, Dangerfield, Peak Practice, Soldier Soldier and The Bill.

Daniel in The Bay.

In recent years you may have also seen him in TV series like Innocent, Cold Call and Mount Pleasant.

He also appeared in Skins, Jim McGovern’s Moving On and shared the screen with Jude Law in Black Sea.

But these examples are just to name a few of the things he has been in.

Is he someone who gets recognised a lot? “I would say more than ever now from The Bay which has been such a success and gets such great ratings.

“But it’s really funny. Someone will say to me, ‘I know you off the telly, don’t I?’

“And I can reel off 15 things and they’ll go, ‘No, it’s none of those’.

“So, it all depends on what was repeated the night before.

“There’s people who recognize me from all kinds of different things now.

“I’ve had a beautiful career, I’m pretty lucky with the variety of things that I’ve done, to go from comedy to a Jimmy McGovern script to a musical, to go off to theatre and do Shakespeare.

“I’ve been so lucky to do the amount and variety that I’ve done that now I’m getting recognized on the street, I feel like I’ve earned it.

“And people say to me, ‘I always know if you’re in, it’s going to be good’.

“And what’s great is I’m very rarely the lead character.

“I’m in there in the mix but people kind of choose to see me as some kind of sign of quality or something that they’ll like. I couldn’t feel any better about that.”

Since its launch in 2019, The Bay, set in Morecambe Bay, was a big hit starring Morven Christie as Detective Lisa Armstrong for the first two series.

Following Morven’s departure, the series returned earlier this year with Marsha Thomason in the lead role as Detective Jenn Townsend.

Marsha has high profile shows such as Las Vegas and Lost on her resume and when she joined the cast it reunited her with Daniel after many years.

Daniel with original story of The Bay Morven Christie.

“I was thrilled they got Marsha.

“When I worked on Messiah, we worked together as cops on that series, which is 15 years ago or more.

“And when they told me it was her, it was great.

“I looked on my phone and I still had her number.

“I called and we had a good chat for two hours.

“It’s fantastic to have her on the show.

“She brings a very different thing to the show.”

Some viewers may have had questions about how the show would continue after Christie’s departure due to the first two series centring entirely on her character.

Daniel puts its continued success down to the craft of Armagh creator Daragh Carville, an award-winning screenwriter/ playwright who has also written the films Middletown (Matthew Macfadyen, Daniel Mays) and Cherrybomb (Rupert Grint, Robert Sheehan).

“It’s all credit to Daragh’s writing.


“He writes brilliant characters and people want to come and play them so she never felt like she was coming in as a replacement.

“It was a new character, new to the job and he created a whole world for that character so why would you not want to come and do it?

“I’m so thrilled because the worry was that an audience might not take to a change so dramatic in the show but it says a lot.

“It’s called The Bay. It’s not called anyone’s name.

“It’s about the location.

“It’s fab that people took to her and we’re carrying on.

Mount Pleasant

“We’re getting seven and a half million viewers.

“It’s got to be a bit of Irish magic with Daragh Carville writing it, hasn’t it really?

“He just writes brilliant characters and I think that’s what people get addicted to.

“When I’m watching it, I sometimes forget it’s a cop show because we get such beautiful family scenes, we get great scenes away from the police station and all the rest of it.

“We’ve got this intrinsic thing running through the middle which is of course the crime.

“But I think Daragh just writes so much more than that.”

Speaking of Irish magic, you might not be surprised to hear that Daniel has Irish blood but the surname is actually as red herring as he wasn’t born Daniel Ryan, his real name is Daniel O’Brien.

Daniel first acted with Claire Rushbrook in Linda Green.

“I had to change it to join the union. Someone had already pinched Daniel O’Brien.

“People say, ‘Why did you choose Ryan?’

“I wanted to keep something that was Irish but equally it was a very practical reason.

“I just thought, ‘Ryan sounds a bit like O’Brien’ and I would hear it over the noise backstage so that’s how I came to be a Ryan.

“A lot of people know me as Daniel Ryan O’Brien or Daniel O’Brien Ryan.

“So I’m O’Brien at home. My wife and my kids are all O’Brien but Daniel Ryan goes to work and earns me a living.

“My granddad moved over from Killarney when a lot of people moved over from Ireland.

“He was one of them, came over and worked down the pits as many did.

Daniel first acted with Marsha Thomason in Messiah.

“So that’s my lot. O’Brien and Murphy were my grandparents on one side and my other side was Jones so I’m a Welsh- Irish split but I always lean towards the Irish side.”

Daniel has got to film in Ireland on projects like The Governor (1996) which was filmed in Dublin, Messiah (2008) which was filmed in Belfast and Innocent (2018) which was filmed around the Malahide area.

“I’ve had lovely, lovely times in Ireland.

“My wife often says to me, ‘I don’t think you look very Irish’.

“And I said, ‘Come off it’.

ITV’s Inncent.

“I hate the whole plastic paddy thing and people digging down as far as they can get to in their roots to suddenly find that they’ve got some Irish in them because of course, who hasn’t?

“But when I first walked down Grafton Street, I felt like I looked like everybody else and I can’t put it any clearer than that.

“It was a very profound feeling.

“There was a real moment of looking around at people and it was a bit like traveling to Africa and finding your tribe.

“It really, really was a profound moment of feeling like I fitted in.

“I haven’t spent enough time in Ireland but it’s totally on my wish list to spend proper time in Ireland, to drive around, to bring my kids.

“It’s an inevitable next part of my journey.

“I’ve hit 54 now, there isn’t a million years left in me and I want to come over and really feel Ireland.”

It was in theatre that Daniel received his acting apprenticeship joining the Royal Shakespeare Company straight after graduation.

“I literally left drama school and I went straight to the Royal Shakespeare Company and I earned my stripes doing- I don’t think people call it spear carrying too much anymore but that’s what we were doing.

“You were in plays, you filled out the numbers, you had a line here and there but you’re working with Alan Bates, Charles Dance. Great, great actors and learning and watching.

“It was very much a continuation of my drama school really going to the RSC.”

The cast of series three of The Bay.

Daniel can also soon be seen in Litvinenko, the story of the investigation into the death of Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko who was killed by poisoning in the UK.

Daniel will play DAC Peter Clarke in the drama that sees David Tennant playing the title role.

“I play a very senior officer in the Metropolitan Police overseeing the case.

“It is very much in the vein of other things I’ve done, very much in the vein of Four Lives (about the victims of serial killer Stephen Port), dramas that hopefully don’t feel so much like dramas.

“David Tennant looked incredible as Alexander Litvinenko.

Home Fires on ITV.

“They did an incredible makeup job on him, because they’re literally interviewing someone who is dying in front of their eyes.

“It’s extraordinary that he managed to stay alive for, I think, 22 days after his poisoning to make sure he gave as much information and tell us as much about what he thought had happened.

“It should be a really a big highlight of this year on the telly, that and another thing I did called Crossfire, which is coming to BBC with Keeley Hawes.

“I’m very excited to see both of those on the telly.

“Very different projects and very exciting. Like I say it is the variety that I get.

“I just feel very blessed.”

Middle runs at the National Theatre from 27 April.

For more information, click here.

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