Ulster American

Ulster American Holdenstreet 2023Joh Hartog Productions. Holden Street Theatres. 19 May 2023


Two lovely leather couches loom large on stage set in a tastefully designed bit of room, maybe a swish hotel room. We are confronted with a brash and rudely robust American looking like a modern Sioux shaman counterposed with an effete Englishman swirling a glass of rosé – a sanguine metaphor that turns bloody awful.


A play is under discussion and the London director and Hollywood star are waiting for the playwright to complete a perfectly volatile triangle. Before she arrives, some compromising discussion about women betrays toxic masculinity in two flavours. But the female Northern Irish playwright - initially giddy upon meeting the star - proves not to be trifled with.


Ulster American is not the script of the deceased Australian author David Ireland who won the Miles Franklin award three times; it belongs to the fully alive David Ireland who penned his award-winning script in 2018. Ireland may identify quite firmly as North Irish or Irish or British as his heroine in this play does. The author juxtaposes the gallimaufry of the Northern Irish conflict with condescending British attitudes and its bipolar politics. The script is fresh with post-Brexit confusion here echoing the dangerous Irish/English national and religious dichotomy. A very clever insight into modern British angst.


The US and UK persona, played a bit too formally yet lively by stalwarts Brendan Cooney and Scott Nell respectively, have a wonderfully robust tête-à-tête that creates a minefield of sexism. The vivacious playwright, played by the coruscating Cheryl Douglas, maneuvers the men into the minefield and Kaboom! Kaboom! as the tripartite of disagreement accelerates out of control, and the pretext of placation turns into a bloody mess.


Director and producer Joh Hartog moves his actors for effective physical emphasis of their colliding worlds, especially when the men gang up and pressurise the poor woman to get their way. The male characters are so awful, the performances seem on the verge of parody. There are so many great battles in this war of wills: bleak, black and terribly funny in a cringe-worthy way. It is exciting to watch the changing status change again until we have a winner. Have we come only this far in the 21st Century?


David Grybowski


When: 10 to 20 May 2023

Where: Holden Street Theatres

Bookings: holdenstreettheatres.com