Theatre. The area in which something happens. And by god does it happen.
Opening night buzz of the most talked about, and shocking, Ulster American was palpable; excited theatre goers packed Dunstan Playhouse to the sounds of 70s funk music, ready, or not so ready, to take in David Ireland’s extraordinary satire.
Set in an apartment in London, an English director, an Oscar-winning American actor and a Northern Irish playwright meet to rehearse a West End play. Sounds like the beginnings of a good old fashioned joke, right? Well, the joke is on us.
As the three converge to discuss the play’s challenges they will face when rehearsals begin the following morning; historical accuracies, national identity, politics, misogyny, feminism, Princess Diana and Brexit become the topic of debate in this contemporary, yet classic three-hander.
No sooner do the actors hit the stage, one would not dispute their undeniable talent to hold the audience in the palm of their hand.
Jay Conway (Darrell D’Silva) the boisterous, egotistical, contentious American box-office movie star, is equal parts intimidating, irritating and congenial. His reason to take on this play is to get in touch with his Irish Catholic roots (and perhaps snare him a Tony).
Ruth (Lucianne McEvoy), who enters the apartment flustered after having a car accident, is star struck by Conway and his name dropping of Tarantino, believes she is well on her way to Hollywood.
But it is Leigh (the incredibly brilliant and magnetic Robert Jack), whose attempts to satisfy and appease both his actor and playwright go completely awry after he divulges to Ruth the outrageous ‘thought experiment’ Jay told him in confidence. Ruth’s feelings turn from bedazzled to disgusted and so begins her historical and cultural diatribe designed to infuriate Ray into admissions of guilt and responsibility.
This leads to an hour and a half of a master stroke in theatre by director Gareth Nicholls; moments of despair and confusion followed by raw, unnerving drama, contradictions and virtue signalling. Some lines were delivered so straight and authentic while others had the wit and comedic timing of Fawlty Towers.
Ulster American speaks to the ‘outrage culture’ that is so prevalent today, even though Ireland wrote this way before the Weinstein #metoo movement. It challenges many moral and social assumptions of people based on gender, religion and culture and inspires thought and conversation long after the final bow.
The final Tarantino-esque scene will leave you with mouth agape in shock, hand on heart disbelief and with wince-induced tears of laughter rolling down your face.
If you miss this in Adelaide, then be prepared to jump on a plane to Broadway or the West End and wait in line.
Honestly and truthfully, one of the most brilliant, unnerving, intoxicating and engaging plays I’ve ever seen.
Happy theatre travels…
This review also features on the Theatre Travels website – www.theatretravels.org