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Ulster American

by on 5 October 2022

Don’t Give Me Your Troubles

Ulster American

by David Ireland

Putney Theatre Company at the Putney Arts Theatre until 8th October

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Leigh is trapped on the sofa in his London apartment with Jay, an Oscar-winning, A-list Hollywood actor.  Jay is loud, intense and very, very needy.  Both men await the arrival of Ruth, the writer of a new play set in Northern Ireland about a Protestant activist to be played by Jay, in the West End.  Jay thinks Ruth is an Irish writer and he’s hugely proud of his Irish roots, despite not having realised the difference between the Republic and the north of Ireland.  Leigh is going to humour Jay for box-office purposes.

Ruth arrives after a stressful car journey with her mother, (an unseen but domineering mother whose presence in fiction everywhere is easily recognisable).  A native of Northern Ireland, Ruth objects to the description “Irish writer”, she sees herself as British.  This confuses Jay but is dismissed as irrelevant by Leigh.  All three characters seek social acceptance by labelling themselves, the men particularly as feminists but this doesn’t prevent either of them with their respective lack of self-awareness, imposing their own labels on Ruth and objecting fiercely when she rejects them.

What follows is a slightly God of Carnagetype degeneration of the evening’s meeting.  Ultimately things take a physical turn which might (or might not) serve to remind everyone that we are in fact just highly evolved animals, despite the pretentions to sophisticated thinking we might like to lay claim to.

Crucial to the proceedings, however, is a conversation between the two men about sexual assault (about which there is a warning on the posters in the theatre), which is both controversial and very funny.  I’ll avoid the details but apparently this element, in past productions, has offended some men.  Tuesday night’s audience, split roughly (not counted) 60/40 women to men, laughed loudly – as did I.  I can’t speak for my entire gender but from my own point of view the exchange between the two men revealed thinly-veiled attitudes towards women, that you (as a female) quickly recognise and then relish seeing exposed to ridicule. 

Ulster American is expertly directed by Stuart Watson who has brought out every element of this clever piece of writing and it runs along at a great pace.  The trio of actors work seamlessly together.  Paddy Cooper (Leigh) is the embodiment of middle class British complacency with a veneer of self-deprecation (and his ability to raise an eyebrow to great effect is unequalled, I think).  Nathan Cable (Jay), manages the difficult task of not producing an over-the-top performance while playing the over-the-top, exhausting, shouty, fragile shell of a man that Jay is.  Imogen Reeve-Tucker presents the voice of sanity and strength whilst managing to include some human frailties in her portrayal of Ruth. 

The set (Rich Evans) is one of the best simple, minimal sets in a small space I’ve seen for a while.  There are three posters for Irish plays covering the work of Sean O’Casey, Jez Butterworth and Martin McDonagh on the wall of Leigh’s apartment.  In front of these Leigh casually ignores Ruth’s British identity in favour of “everyone” thinking she’s Irish anyway, and thus the vacuity of virtue-signalling is illustrated more efficiently than could be achieved by any verbal explanation. 

Costumes too, not specifically credited in the online programme, were satisfyingly right, from Leigh’s crumpled but expensive trousers to Jay’s carefully constructed hipster-ish vibe. 

PTC’s Ulster American is an excellent, very entertaining ninety minutes’ worth, beautifully written, well produced and definitely well worth seeing, highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis, October 2022

Photography by Steven Lippitt

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