Tuesday, April 23

Ulster American – Riverside Studios

A play about an American actor and English director and an Irish playwright sounds like the combination of two rather bad bar jokes but that is what David Ireland’s play Ulster American presents.  While it might have been expected to be about the legitimate differences in the creative process between actors, writers and directors. In fact, it was a conflict between three rather implausible characters.

Jay Conway, played by Woody Harrelson, is the American actor, with a glittering Hollywood career behind him. He has a great sense of his own importance and of being right even when he is clearly in the wrong.  He carries his Oscar around with him to remind himself, and others of his omnipotence.  From the beginning of the play, having only just recently arrived from America to start rehearsals, he moves around the director’s house with a sense of entitlement dominating the conversation and traps his host into an embarrassing conversation about in what circumstances it might be permissible to commit rape and, if so, on whom.

Leigh Carver, played by Andy Serkis, is the English director. He is clearly delighted to have scooped such a prestigious actor to ensure the sell-out of his production and setting him one further step on his ambition to be director of the National Theatre. He is excruciating in his willingness to please and do or say anything to preserve his production.

Photo – Johan Persson

Ruth Davenport, played by Louisa Harland, is the young playwright from Northern Ireland.  Initially she is awestruck by the presence of the American star, but she is a feisty young lady and when challenged by the two men as to whether she is Irish or British and in the face of some appalling misogynistic comments puts up a very spirited defence of her position and calling out the bigotry of the men.

The play is very funny, but it is also quite outrageous with some audible gasps on press night as to some of the comments made.

The setting is a well-designed living room in the director’s English house, such as might befit a middle-class intellectual working in the creative sector, complete with Eames Chair and modern art.

The acting was very good by all three actors, but they could not make the script believable.  Casting Harrelson as the American actor is a mirror image of what happens in the play: a case of life imitating art.  I suspect that many people who come to see this play will be attracted by the screen profile of the actors. If you do come and see it be prepared for offensive language and an unexpectedly violent ending.

Playing until 27th January 2024, https://riversidestudios.co.uk/ulster-american-announcement/

Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd

Reviewed: 13th December 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.