Ulster American at Adelaide Festival
Hamish spoke with Gareth Nicholls, Director of Ulster American, an exciting new work heading for the Adelaide Festival this March. Ulster American is from the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe, where it had the whole city talking, caught (as one critic put it) between “gasps, guilty guffaws and the urge to storm out” and an “exhilarating wave of taboo-breaking wildness”. Check out the full interview below:
Gareth Nicholls, Director
Mark Fisher from The Guardian said of this show, when he reviewed its Edinburgh debut, “If Jacobean revenge tragedies were played as uproarious comedy, they’d look like this.” What is this show about both in terms of plot and themes? What can audiences look forward to? Why should they not miss this show?
Ulster American deals with abuse of power, consent and male privilege. David Ireland (the writer) tackles these issues head-on with writing that’s witty, confronting and brutal, and creates a hilarious satire that exposes the characters’ grotesque nature in an utterly compelling and enlightening manner. What it has to say about power and entitlement in light of the #metoo revelations is fascinating – and I’m sure it will provoke some fierce conversations long into the night afterwards.
In a post-MeToo world, what are you trying to say with this play? Do you think the parallels you draw between male attitudes to women and the UK’s attitudes to Northern Island will make sense to an Australian audience? What techniques or devices do you employ to help smooth this transition to a different audience?
I was thrilled that so many people connected with David Ireland’s blistering comedy, as it touches on themes such as identity and gender politics – themes that are absolutely at the forefront of peoples’ minds around the world with no sign of abating. It will be fascinating to see if audiences in Australia and New Zealand respond to the play (and its stellar cast) with the same energy and passion as they did in Scotland. I really hope they will, as while it is set in Britain and deals with Northern Irish-British politics, the comedy within it and ideas around abuse of power are truly universal.
Last year you won the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award and on the back of that are now touring internationally. What has that experience been like? What made you want to take this show to Australia? And what do you think is next for the show?
Australia will be the first country we tour to outside of Scotland. After this we’ll be going to New Zealand, Ireland and Northern Ireland, with more dates in London and New York already being discussed. So who knows what that will be like until we get there, but if Ulster American’s run in Scotland is anything to go by, it should be a pretty riotous experience for audiences that – I hope – will leave them thrilled and provoked in equal measure.
How would you describe David Ireland’s writing? How do you two work together?
David plays are some of the most hilarious, intelligent and provocative pieces I’ve ever read. He’s a genius at creating stories that specialise in making the audiences’ jaws hit the floor in the most brilliant and wonderful way possible.
In Ulster American David has written something that, while uncompromising and controversial, is also extremely funny, wild and witty. But we’ve also been incredibly rigorous with what the piece is saying, spending a long time testing each and every word and its implications within the story – so while that’s taken time it has also been an incredibly rewarding process. I think audiences will see the rigour that’s gone in to it and enjoy the ride all the better for it.
Is there a particular line from the show that sums it all up?
There’s so many – most of which are probably too full-on to print – but I do like the following:
When someone treats me like a piece of shit.
I bring out my Academy Award.
It has something to say.
It’s saying I’m right.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Peer Gynt by The National Theatre of Scotland/Dundee Rep
Bach by Las Ballet C de La Bas
White Star by Campo/Victoria,
HOME by Geoff Sobelle
This Restless House by Zinnie Harris… The list goes on. Sorry, there’s far too many to narrow down to just one.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Somewhere, anywhere sunny! Right now it’s cold, dark and wet in Scotland.
Dream show to direct?
One that I couldn’t possibly imagine yet and is still a grain of an idea in a playwright’s mind.
Plays, musicals or operas?
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I like sport – football, tennis, athletics – any sport, really
What’s next for you after this show?
I’ll be directing one of the Traverse Theatre’s Festival shows in August. We can’t say what it is yet but rest assured it’s funny, fierce, powerful, and a little bit bonkers. I’m really looking forward to starting work on it.
Ulster American opens at the Dunstan Playhouse in Adelaide on March 13th and runs until March 17th as part of the Adelaide Festival. You can get your tickets here.