Ulster American – Abbey Theatre – Review
Abbey Theatre presents Traverse Theatre Company – Ulster American – From 9 – 20 April 2019
Jay (Darrell D’Silva) is an unusual man. He’s an Oscar-winning actor who is arrogant and intense, after many years of living the dream in Hollywood. He’s about to star in a play in London that touches on his Irish roots. Rehearsals for the play start tomorrow and he is waiting with the director, Leigh (Robert Jack), for the arrival of the writer Ruth (Lucianne McEvoy). They have a wide-ranging conversation about race in America that touches on many uncomfortable issues. Leigh is a liberal and right-minded individual who has to put up with this troubling discussion due to Jay’s status, but there is much worse to come, as the conversation moves on to the topic of women and other issues!
This is a play produced by Scotland’s Traverse Theatre company and was originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2018 where it was well received. It is a new work by David Ireland who previously brought us Cyprus Avenue, the tale of a Belfast loyalist who believes his five-week-old granddaughter is Gerry Adams! While this tale is slightly less fantastical, it does have a similar level of passion, delving into sectarian attitudes in Northern Ireland. The character of Jay, an Irish American with little or no knowledge of Irish history is used as a foil to delve into prejudice in Northern Ireland. Another interesting touch is that Leigh is English and sees Ruth as an Irish woman, despite Ruth’s protests that she is British.
This play is timely, as it touches on many of the ideas that Brexit has brought to the fore. The other major issue of the play is misogyny, as Jay has some unusual attitudes towards women! The Abbey give a warning about graphic violence and strong language on their website along with a further warning about references to sexual assault and it should be heeded by anyone of a delicate disposition. The play will cause offence to many and it is quite striking to hear this language on the Abbey stage.
The setting of the play is the sitting room of Leigh’s comfortable apartment, with its understated, muted tones and stylish trimmings! It’s a symphony in grey, with carpet, walls and couch all looking just perfect, as you would expect from a West End theatre director’s home.
The play is by no means politically correct! It delves into Jay’s views on women and rape, which are quite difficult to hear. Quentin Tarantino is referenced several times in the script and it’s an obvious comparison, with the combination of a tightly written script along with violence and bad language. Despite this, there are many positives in the play, as it is at times hilarious and manages to cover a lot of ground. David Ireland is a playwright that forces an audience to have a long hard look at themselves, and no one is spared. That cast develop a taut and tense atmosphere that builds to a tumultuous ending.
Photography by Sid Scott
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes without an interval
Jay Conway: Darrell D’Silva
Leigh Carver: Robert Jack
Ruth Davenport: Lucianne McEvoy
Writer: David Ireland
Director: Gareth Nicholls
Design: Becky Minto
Lighting Design: Kate Bonney
Composition & Sound Design: Michael John McCarthy
Assistant Director: Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir
Fight Director: EmmaClaire Brightlyn
Production Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic