Ulster American by David Ireland – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
David Ireland’s play, about Hollywood actor arriving in Britain to play the lead in a play by an Ulster Protestant writer, is a riot. From the moment bearded, open-shirted Darrell D’Silva strides on stage the audience is laughing, and it doesn’t stop, even as the humour becomes increasingly, outrageously dark. D’Silva, as Jay, has a plumb part which he attacks with relish. His character is an Oscar-winner makes up with charisma what he lacks in basic intelligence. His deeply serious, unsuccessful attempts to understand Northern Ireland are hilarious. However, his ego is always one step ahead of him, and he is a complete mismatch with his putative director, Leigh, played by Robert Jack. Leigh is nervous, northern and slightly camp, and Jack plays him with more than hint of Alan Bennett. They circle one another warily until Jay makes a macho suggestion of such heroic offensiveness that the play is blown open.
Enter Ruth, the playwright, who is late due to a set of complex and unlikely circumstances which she relates at full speed, with Irish-level candour. Played by Lucianne McEvoy, her character is instantly a match for Jay, in terms of charisma and humour. All three performances delight as the character dynamics shift, and tip into a disastrous vortex of Martin McDonagh proportions. Ireland’s play is one of the funniest pieces seen on stage for a long time, but it has more than laughs to offer. While many aFringe production wrestles awkwardly with the big issues of the moment – rape, sexism, Hollywood hypocrisy, political tribalism, the future of Northern Ireland – David Ireland takes them all on at once with gleeful abandon. The two male characters are brutally skewered – the pious left-wing cliches of Leigh and the egoistic delusion of Jay (“I’m one of the nicest men in the business!”). Meanwhile, it is Ruth they should both have been watching. An irresistible play, in a triumphant production.