Director Gareth Nicholls writes for Culture about his production of David Ireland's new play Ulster American, which runs at the Abbey Theatre from April 9th.
David Ireland’s plays are some of the most hilarious, intelligent and provocative pieces I’ve ever read.
He’s a force to be reckoned with at creating stories that specialise in making the audiences’ jaws hit the floor in the most brilliant and wonderful ways possible – and in Ulster American he’s surely as close as he can get to mastering this art.
Ulster American deals with abuse of power, consent and male privilege – issues that are absolutely at the forefront of people’s minds across the world. But rather than skirting around these issues, David has tackled them head-on with writing that’s witty, brutal and confronting, but also ultimately hilarious. It is a satire that exposes grotesque hypocrisy and disturbing self-interest with a style and flair that I’ve rarely seen in a script. What it has to say about power and entitlement in light of the #MeToo revelations is fascinating and only
seems to get more pertinent as the movement’s impact grows.
Theatre is at its best when it is a communal experience, where people can come together and respond to something as one – live and in the moment – and audiences have certainly responded strongly to Ulster American.
The play also raises some big questions around identity – who we identify ourselves as, who other people identify us as, and where the gaps are in between the two. In a period where nationalism, anti-immigration policies and bigotry seem to be on the rise around the world, Ulster American isn’t scared to ask uncomfortable truths of its characters and the world they inhabit. Of course, Brexit plays a huge part in these issues, as does the relationship between Britain and Northern Ireland, but equally I’d hope it transcends UK politics to ask some timely and pressing questions that are entirely universal.
For me personally, theatre is at its best when it is a communal experience, where people can come together and respond to something as one – live and in the moment – and audiences have certainly responded strongly to Ulster American. So many people have connected with it on both an intellectual and emotional level. It has provoked some strong emotions and sparked debates in bars, online and in the papers long after people have seen the show.
Theatre of course has a unique power to do this – placing audiences at the centre of political, cultural and social debate. I think it is vital that we don’t shy away from that. I’m really looking forward to seeing if audiences in Ireland and further afield respond to the play with the same energy and passion as they have in Scotland. I am sure that they will.
Enjoy the show.
Ulster American is at the Abbey Theatre from April 9th - 20th - find out more here.