Ulster American @ Traverse Theatre

Brash, loud and brutal, David Ireland’s explosive three-hander is a well-drawn character piece full of supremely tasteless laughs

Review by Jon Stapley | 09 Aug 2018

It’s every ambitious playwright and theatre director’s dream to get a bona fide Hollywood actor attached to their project, but these stars tend to come with baggage, as people find out to their cost in David Ireland’s new play Ulster American. A director and playwright meet their new lead, an Oscar-winner from the United States, for an informal chit-chat the night before rehearsals commence. It doesn’t go well.

The director, Leigh (Robert Jack), is an awesome spectacle of cowardice, a cringing sycophant who has managed to convince himself his theatre-making isn’t completely self-serving, and will say absolutely anything to please whoever happens to be in the room. The playwright Ruth (Lucianne McEvoy) is the opposite, a principled visionary, fiercely uncompromising and defensive of her play about a group of Ulster loyalists. Probably the worst person possible to be thrown between them is Jay (Darrell D’Silva), an actor of the old school who fancies himself woke, with the power to send their play to Broadway and beyond. D’Silva’s performance evokes any number of swarthy, volatile Hollywood stars – Josh Brolin’s looks with Sean Penn’s temperament. He’s not a comfortable person to be around.

It’s a perfect storm. Jay’s prestige and influence make him someone Leigh physically cannot prevent himself from sucking up to, while the star’s total lack of filter makes it inevitable that he and Ruth will clash. An offensive remark by Jay, a poor decision by Leigh, and the trio’s disagreements spiral out of control. Things build and build to the violence that you know is coming (you’ve seen the poster), and while it is easy to get a little fatigued of the near-constant shouting as we cross the 70-minute threshold, when resolution comes it is with a swift and satisfying crunch.

Ulster American, Traverse Theatre (Traverse Two), 28 Jul-26 Aug (not Mondays), various times, £9.50-20.50

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