Ulster American

Content warning: strong language

“Muthafuckas like you and me have to take a step back.” This is the central thrust of Jay’s philosophy: a swaggering, blustering, silver-fox, macho incarnation of Hollywood Liberalism’s worst excesses. He’s played brilliantly by Darren D’Silva with a furious, dominating energy, striding around set like a colossus, silver hair slicked back. A world-renowned actor, whose name has currency – and just in case it doesn’t, Jay has an Oscar Award that he always keeps in his bag.

His professed artistic mission is to give a voice to the voiceless and to raise up the suffering masses with his own two hands. His interest in this play is therefore motivated by a desire to reconnect with his suffering, Irish Catholic roots. He meets his nemesis in scriptwriter Ruth, a Protestant, Northern Ireland Unionist with a lot more grit, and a lot more common sense. Played passionately by Lucianne McEvoy, it is her voice that is at risk of being drowned out – because it doesn’t suit us. Between them: the arbiter. Leigh (Robert Jack) is the slightly camp, northern-English theatre director who bends over backwards – almost to the point of hideous contortion – to keep both parties satisfied. So keen is he to avoid offence, that he can’t help but offend everybody.

This is a clever play which charts some really relevant themes, and skilfully courts controversy. What kind of speech is unacceptable? If you watch this play, you will witness liberal hypocrisy being drawn out of its battlements, thrown to the ground and beaten into a pulp with a shiny little gold statue. History – it infects everything, as the characters discover. Ruth insists she is British; Jay is appalled at being enlisted into a play that is anything other than a historically blind vindication of the oppressed. Leigh reassures him – she isn’t British in any way that real British people would recognise: “it’s unlikely that anyone from Belfast will even see this play”.

McEvoy, D’Silva and Jack make good use of rather limited space: the whole 90 minutes are contained within Leigh’s living room. Especially towards the end, with tensions bursting out into actual violence, the furniture is enlisted as props, usually as something to cower behind. One criticism would be timing; not all 90 minutes of the performance are put to good use, and there are moments of padding. Despite this, the play successful claims and retains the attention of the audience for the hour and a half run-time. Picant and thought-provoking.

Ulster American

Thursday 21st February 2019

Traverse Theatre

Image: Sid Scott via Traverse Theatre

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