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Photo by Richard Farland

Ulster American

Outhouse Theatre Company and the Seymour Centre present, ULSTER AMERICAN, by David Ireland, in the Reginald Theatre, at the Seymour Centre, City Rd Chippendale. 13th May - 2nd - 9th June 2021 (extended season).

ULSTER AMERICAN (2018) is a play by Irishman, David Ireland. Another of his plays : CYPRUS AVENUE (2016), was presented at the Old Fitz by Redline and Empress Theatre in 2019.

In ULSTER AMERICAN, an ambitious English Theatre Director, Leigh Carver (Brian Meegan) has nurtured a promising young Irish (identifies as British) woman writer, Ruth Davenport (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), who has now presented an astonishing  new play about “The Troubles” of Ireland. It is so arresting that Leigh has been able to contract one of the ‘hottest’ American (who recognises his Irish American origins) Academy Award winning actors, Jay Conray (Jeremy Waters), to play the lead. It is the night before rehearsals commence and Leigh has organised a meeting between himself, the writer and the lead actor, as a social courtesy for each of them.

For the Director the success of this production will be an obvious boost to his standing as an artist of influence, as well as a fairly rich man, as the production has been fully Sold Out, on the reputation of his famous leading actor. For the actor, Jay, this role presents an opportunity to reveal his true Acting Chops to the world, on stage – an opportunity to justify his Academy Award status, in a role that he believes, as well, will give him positive ‘glory’ as an Irish American in the world political sphere. For the writer, Ruth, this production of her play will draw the attention of the film industry, such as the illustrious Quentin Tarrantino, and give her access to the Hollywood ‘machine’ and great monetary, if not artistic, opportunity.

The stakes for each of the characters are high. The Director presents as a modest soft spoken intellectual but reveals in the tumult of the conflict that arises to be a calculating and ruthless ‘animal’ of masterful manipulative skill – he will take no prisoners! The Actor presents as an artist of volatile ambition which quickly collapses when his arguments for ‘status’ reveal a pseudo-intellect fuelled by an arrogance of grandiosity and an ego of monumental proportion that aspires to much more than mere social and political reputation. He carries his Oscar in his bag as the touch assurance of his abilities! The Writer presents as a modest, near helpless woman grateful for the power that these men can wield for her advancement, until they begin to interrogate her play script and attempt to introduce changes and edits and re-writes that will disfigure and ‘destroy’ her creation, her ‘child’ – she becomes a ‘superhero’ of Marvel Comic proportions, a force of physical wrath, the reflex of the defensive mother creator to combat her predators. The stakes for each of the characters become DESPERATELY high, that demand, from each, desperate actions!

ULSTER AMERICAN is a satire. The play is full of subtly clever jokes, as well as shocking causes of huge stomach laughter response, for the comedy of satire allows the writer to put into the mouths of his characters statements of argument of exhilarating inappropriateness, to passionately pursue their objectives, that can create a physical punch that a gasp of disbelief (Did she/he say that?) as the spontaneous reaction that, then, demands the noise of big laughter to cover the shock.

ULSTER AMERICAN is an hilarious verbal farce of temperament for most of its 80 minutes, that I thought, unfortunately, devolved into a physical escapade that had the woman murdering (at the least in bloodily assaulting the two men to a pulp) using the actual phallic Oscar figure as a bludgeoning weapon.

Mr Ireland had drafted this play before the #metoo movement began but the sight of the bloodily smeared Ruth collapsing, in this play, trying to regain her breath, as a cue for the lights to fade to black and on the night I went, a cheering cabal of support for justice done to the sexist, racist male egotists, Leigh and Jay, rang out from the audience : wolf whistling and stamping!!!

Now, the tradition of farce, has more often than not, usually just ‘blacked out – curtain down’ to finish a play, as the tying up of bows to bring a naturalism to a “lunar’ situation is nigh-near impossible : consider the Aldwych Farces of Ben Travers to the Whitehall Farces of Brian Rix; to the Carry on films even to the television creations of Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous, the episodes just stop. However, I felt that Mr Ireland had just stopped and reached for an ending that appeared as a tack-on – i.e. the physical brawling. It may have been the actors relative lack of skill with the choreography, but , for me, it felt a squib considering the blistering verbal dynamics that had buoyed and dominated most of the night’s drive to another ‘planet’ of mounting hilarity – the physical life of character or the action of the play was not a major part of this play’s tool box, until those final beats! Mr Ireland,in my estimation,fails his climax by resolving to physical dumb-show instead of arguing consistently with his clever verbal intellect. Brawn called in, abandoning the use of brains to conclude this play.

Shane Anthony, the Director of this production from Outhouse, had had a steady hand up till those added physical beats, with Jeremy Waters producing the crazy Over-the-Top red-blush hilarity as Jay, which we have seen him give before (great casting), balanced by a dexterous contrast of style by Brian Meegan, giving the performance of the night as Leigh, the low-keyed ‘villain’. Harriet Gordon-Anderson arrives late and floats an intelligent energy in the room that slowly combusts into the woman (worm) that finally turns in the power dynamic she and her ‘child’, the play, finds themselves in – Ms Gordon-Anderson was, on my night,I felt, a little under charged. This trio of actors build an ensemble of control over the very enriched comic bravura of the subtle reference-joke writing to the full outrage of daring to articulate  the culturally inappropriate, articulating, maybe, what we have often thought, but have never had the  courage to say.

This production by Outhouse Theatre Company has an impeccable Set and Lighting Design by Veronique Bennett, Costume Design by Claudia Kryszkiewicz, with Mary Rapp backing up the production with the Sound Design.

The Outhouse Theatre Company, under the Direction of Jeremy Waters, have constantly had their fingers on the pulse of contemporary international writing and have produced works of quality in all of its artistic choices. For instance, Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s GLORIA, many of the Annie Baker plays ; THE FLICK and JOHN. Now, ULSTER AMERICAN,  a contemporary play that delivers satiric comment in the form of comic farce that attacks the solar plexus with powerful punches. Someone is reading Contemporary World Dramatic Literature at the Outhouse (this is sometimes true at the New Theatre, as well).

The Sydney Theatre Company has caught up, this year, with giving us Mr Jacob-Jenkins’ APPROPRIATE  (at last, the leading company in Sydney finds and presents GOLD) – an extraordinary comic theatrical experience but then, follows up with mere competent writing such as HOME, I’M DARLING, by Laura Wade or the grizzily comedy of a television sitcom on the Roslyn Packer stage called GRAND HORIZONS, by Bess Wohl. Both plays, I reckon, for the comatose.

Thank God for companies such as Outhouse that keep Sydney theatre audiences in the international conversation loop. I was given a late tip to catch it, I was so pleased. Much as I was at the Eternity Theatre with their production of SEVEN METHODS OF KILLING KYLIE JENNER by Jasmine Lee-Jones. A relevant crash into the Dramatic Theatre Literature of the NOW.