Playwave Creative

REVIEW: Ulster American

Ulster American
Presented by Ensemble Theatre
Reviewed by Jemma Ryan

From the opening of the play, as character Jay Conway asks “Is there homophobia in Hollywood? Misogyny? Racism?”, David Ireland’s Ulster American is bold and direct. Not only does it tackle sensitive issues, but the very issues that plague the film and theatre industries. In this way, Ireland pulls back the curtain on Hollywood’s dark underbelly in a play that is sharp, jarring and witty — all in a mere 75 minutes.

Ireland presents three nuanced characters. In a relatively short play, it would be easy for these characters to retreat into mere caricatures. However, the play’s three actors, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brian Meegan and Jeremy Waters, present convincing and distinct characters. Waters was, in my mind, the standout performer in Ulster American. Playing Jay Conway, a celebrated Hollywood actor with a troubling personal life, he exuded a turbulent, unpredictable energy that kept audiences on the edge of their seat. Through both appearance and demeanour, he also took on an almost uncanny resemblance to Woody Harrelson (who played Conway in a previous iteration of the play). However, to focus solely on one actor would be to take away from the impeccable performances exhibited by the ensemble.

The nuance of Ireland’s play, however, lay in the recognisability of these characters. They were each riddled with flaws behind their facades, some with more overtly inappropriate attitudes, and others masking them under a thick layer of ‘political correctness’ and ‘performative activism’. As director Shane Anthony writes, the play uncovers individuals who have a “desperate need to be seen on the right side of history”; what they say behind closed doors, and their fear of the truth coming to light. The play explores identity politics, gender biases and the dynamics between creatives, which is heightened by an intimate set in the equally intimate Ensemble Theatre. The use of mirrors in the set design means the actors are visible at all angles and, above that, the audience can see themselves as they bare witness to private, sensitive moments. The staircase and windows also remind audiences of the privacy of these moments…and the outside world that exists beyond. Akin to Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? some of the best plays take place in the living room.

This play, written before the #MeToo era skyrocketed, possesses a certain urgency and relevance that, Anthony observes, seems to anticipate pervasive concerns that are bubbling beneath the surface. Ulster American is an exciting 21st century play which doubles as an incisive examination of the arts industry. It asks what we are willing to accept, what we are willing to compromise and where the line must be drawn.

Ulster American is playing at Ensemble Theatre until 8 June. Get your Playwave tickets HERE.

Production images by Prudence Upton

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