Acclaimed writer David Ireland’s new play is a visceral, violent and incredibly explosive punch to the gut that passionately tears into the confused state of British identity, the politics of theatre, and society's violent undercurrent.
Ulster American buries itself deep into your blood and guts and holds your attention completely.
We stumble into a tense conversation in a upmarket flat in London. An acclaimed but maverick actor, Jay, is excitedly preparing to star in a new controversial play about the Irish Troubles written by firebrand Northern Irish playwright Ruth Davenport, all under the watchful eye of up and coming socialist director Lee. As the three get to grips with the production, fissures between them appear and the evening begins to escalate completely out of control.
Visceral is a word that’s used a lot in describing Ireland’s combative and often violent work, and this new play is no exception to the rule. Ulster American buries itself deep into your blood and guts and holds your attention completely as the action on stage begins to descend into chaos. Ireland is able to invoke a horrifically bleak sense of humour that elicits horrified gasps from the audience as they stare unbelieving at what occurs on stage. The play pulls no punches in the treatment of its themes, seeming to delight in the discomfort of the audience, and it does a wonderful job of making its characters throughably unlikeable, while never making them uninteresting.
These characters are perfectly portrayed by the show's incredible cast. Darrel D’Silva commands the stage as the blustering and at times buffoonish macho Hollywood man’s man Jay, perfectly contrasted with Lucianne McVoy’s iron-willed and resolute Ruth, a woman who never backs down even when she risks destruction to do so. Mediating these two extremes is Robert Jack’s fantastic, almost clownish, performance as liberal wimp Lee, a man whose veneer of socialist ethics is simply cover for a deep well of venomous cynicism.
Each of these three counterbalances the other and allows the show to delve deep into the battlefield that is its politics. Auteur theatre making, antiquated ideas of Irish identity, and the liberal cultural elite are all skewered and deconstructed before our very eyes. By the end we are left staring at the tatters of the social order we thought we once knew and took for granted.
The almost demonic sense of energy that animates the show, however, begins to flag by the third act. One gets the feeling that the play is a tad overstuffed, and could do with shaving ten minutes off without losing anything. This lag towards the conclusion is quickly remedied by the play's explosive end, and one leaves the theatre as if stumbling away from a war scene.
Ulster American is set to go down as one of the most memorable and controversial plays at this year's Festival, and it is this boldness, bravery and uncompromising sense of vision which makes it such a worthwhile piece of stunning theatre.