Writer: David Ireland
Director: Gareth Nicholls
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Recently, the act of being offended has become blasé. People are offended by movie remakes, television programmes – hell quite often a social media post about cake toppings can cause riots. The term ‘offended’ however, has a place in Ulster American which returns to the Traverse after a sell-out run during the 2018 Fringe.
At first, we seem to have a post-Brexit liberal piece from an Irish writer – or is it a Conservative play by a British writer focusing on The Troubles? Either way, neither writer, director nor Hollywood star can agree. They all want a different story, separate goal and to exude an image. As their arguments over Catholicism vs Protestant, Brexit, Feminism and yes – rape escalate, things start to become more than just about a new hit play…
Robert Jack and Lucianne McEvoy as our director and writer Leigh and Ruth have congruous chemistry. Briefly, they seem the bedrock of sanity to D’Silva’s anarchy. How utterly wrong we are. McEvoy is particular delivers a strikingly realistic, yet somehow depraved performance as she hammers respect for her text into the minds of her self-serving colleagues. As her nationality and authenticity as an artist are questioned – McEvoy portrays her frustrated emotions exquisitely.
If you choose to play sides in Ulster American, you may find your allegiance shifting. At first, the swish egotistical Hollywood star Jay (Darrell D’Silva) somehow compels our attention. He’s crass, misogynistic (even when he doesn’t realise) and worst of all – American. D’Silva though, in fact, the entire cast, performs in such a mesmerising way we’re conned into hanging on every word. We laugh at almost every gag – no matter how deplorable it really is.
Let’s get one thing straight though, the moment rape becomes the subject of comedy, we cross a divide. Aspects become black and white with no middle. For most, it’s an abhorrent notion to trivialise. For others, comedy should have no bounds, no restrictions. Regardless of whichever camp you rest in, this evening people roared, though often with intakes of breath. If this leaves a bitterness in your gut – it’s fully understandable.
It’s divisional, and that seems to be David Ireland’s intent, even if not his cognitive one. The issue at the core of this production is that its jabs aren’t sharp enough. Occasional jokes have precise targets, others taking wider punches. They aren’t fleshed out, for example, there are too many jokes about transgender identity which are simply tossed around. Now if this is was a commentary on how little a general audience actually knows about the trans community – it’s too clever to believe.
Really, the ingenious nature of Ireland’s writing – backed by the performances is unravelling the subtext of the play. It is not meant to be shocking, at least not in the way we may find. What’s really immoral is the flippant nature of assault, gender, sexuality, race and politics being smashed aside for personal benefit. Its satire focuses on national divides, liberal ‘agendas’ and even the triumphant #MeToo movement both in its inception but also its backlash. If you’re familiar with Ireland’s previous productions the climax will be expected, though it’s volatile manner may still provoke a gasp.
What Ulster American does is tell us that individual plays will not fix the world. No production will stop Brexit. A single piece of theatre will not solve discrimination. What they can do however is, collectively, give people a voice – give them a platform to open the doors and highlight the confrontations they face. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but productions which appease everyone rarely have real merit or substance.
Runs until 2 March 2019 | Image: Sid Scott