Ulster American at Red Stitch Actors' Theatre
“The human race depends upon us, the makers of theatre, for its very survival. And without the freedom to be wrong in the pursuit of the truth, then we’re no better than actual engineers. We’re no better than theatre critics”
A searing comedy on show business post-#MeToo that brilliantly captures the confusion of ‘woke’ men trying to mansplain their positions of power.
A talented young female writer, an A-list actor and an ambitious West End director meet to discuss the most important new play of the decade – if they can only agree on what it’s about! Fragile egos, the fault lines of modern politics and the all-pervasive power of Hollywood threatens to derail the whole project.
Carly spoke with performer Sarah Sutherland about the Victorian premiere of this work and why this work has been so divisive. Read the full interview below:
Playwright David Ireland has is certainly known for his controversial works and risqué approaches to speaking about topics such as, as is discussed in detail in Ulster American, toxic masculinity, sex, love and the like. What makes his work so divisive in your opinion and how as an actor do you overcome any of those controversial segments in order to focus on the importance of the theme at hand?
David’s work definitely leans into the ‘you can’t say that’ category. His work challenges political correctness and punctures it’s often thin veneer, asking what happens when what we think we think comes up against what we want. These themes are certainly very current and universally relevant . It feels like what men are feeling hard right now is ‘how do we move responsibly in a patriarchal society’ and I think the play looks at what happens to us all when power imbalance and personal gain gets in the way of what we know is right. And the ways in which saying the right thing just isn’t enough when it isn’t backed up, when discrimination is really entrenched. No one, Ruth included, escapes unscathed. That being said, it is enormously satisfying to play Ruth, who is forced to challenge the undercurrents of gender divisiveness and cultural stereotypes in ways that are forthright, bold and, ultimately, shocking as well.
Ulster American is described as being a searing comedy in the business that is show-biz post the #MeToo Movement. There is no question as to why audiences will find this relevant in 2019 so instead, what can they expect from this show and what do you hope that they are talking about long after you take your bow?
I hope they thoroughly enjoy it - and I hope they also feel it’s sting ! The corrosive nature of power and the larger geo political themes all seem to be providing lots of stimulating post show foyer conversation.
Tell us a bit about your character – who is she and where does she fit between the two men who are trying to mansplain life and the industry to her?
Ruth Davenport is an up and coming playwright from Northern Ireland, fiercely intelligent and in pursuit, at all times, of the ‘truth’. Her script about The Troubles is about to be produced in the West End in London, where she arrives to meet with her self important, hugely famous lead actor and politically correct British Director ( played by Steve Bastoni and David Whiteley, hilarious as Jay and Leigh respectively ) both eager to support and champion the female writer - until she proves to be far less malleable than they expect.
In a very busy show season in Melbourne, why must audiences ensure that they don’t miss this show?
It’s a cracker of a play - topical, bold, irreverent, funny and whip smart to boot.
I think it makes for a ripper night out at the theatre - do come !
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
The Chairs ( Ionesco, at Anthill Theatre in Napier St when I was 16 ). It changed my world - it was in this funny little space with hardly any set. The acting was magic. I was enthralled.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
Iran. I’ve wanted to go for years. One day.
Dream role to perform?
Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Plays or musicals?
Plays for me. Always. Maybe because I’m sadly not a singer.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I’m an armchair traveller. My favourite hobby ( if you could call it that ) is climbing into everything I can find out about the culture and people in countries that I would like to go to. Mostly they seem to be countries that are difficult to travel to. I know an awful lot about Saudi Arabia and North Korea, for example. I’m not quite sure what this fascination is all about, but it seems to be something to do with worlds that are shut off from me, that are hard to access. And, currently, personally harder than ever ( I have two pre schoolers !).
What’s next for you after this show?
I direct a company of actors with intellectual disabilities (rollercoaster theatre) and we are working on a script for a television series. I produced a short film last year with them and we scooped the awards at Tropfest. We were stunned and it was so much fun. So everyone is pretty excited about this next project.
Ulster American is currently running at the Red Stitch Actors' Theatre in Melbourne, until September 19 2019. You can get your tickets here.