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Ulster American (Red Stitch Theatre) – theatre review

If provocative theatre and the art of confrontation are your thing, then have I got a play for you! Ulster American is wildly funny, but not for the feint-hearted. Playwright David Ireland takes aim at politics and the treatment of women.

Jay Conway (Steve Bastoni) is an arrogant – but Oscar-winning – actor. The American has signed on to appear in a British play to be directed by ambitious Englishman Leigh Carver (David Whiteley). The pair meets up ahead of the first rehearsal; and before you know it, he’s dropped a bombshell. Carver is shocked and at first refuses to rise to Conway’s challenge. But he quickly relents and in so doing reveals his political leaning. They’re joined by the author of the work they’re about to stage, Northern Irish playwright Ruth Davenport (Sarah Sutherland). Her journey to meet the pair has been anything but smooth. Worse is to come as the situation gets heated; and then totally out of hand.

Photo: Teresa Noble

Ulster American explores consent, the abuse of power and confusion about cultural identity. A lot of words are spoken. And as more words are exchanged that it said the deeper the rift between the trio as control shifts. I loved the way things escalated as quickly as they did. You dare not take your eyes away from the action for even a second.

Red Stitch is known for its acting prowess and this is no exception. The performances are sensational from all three, with Conway making the early running with his larger than life showing. Carver is good value as the peace-maker whose calm demeanour is challenged. Sutherland ensures her character arc is an impressive one, moving from vulnerable to empowered.

Ireland clearly set out to prick any niceties surrounding collaboration and he has done so with aplomb. Director Brett Cousins has done a great job extracting the most from this trio and from the biting prose. So, buckle up because you are in for a thoroughly engaging, if rocky, ride.

Ulster American is playing at Red Stitch Theatre until 19 September 2019.

Alex First

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