A tone-deaf Hollywood actor, an up-and-coming British director and a Northern Irish playwright with very different ideas try to put on a play… It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but instead it’s the premise of an explosive play due to hit Auckland this month.
David Ireland’s Ulster American has polarised critics elsewhere, with some (mainly male) falling over themselves to give it glowing reviews and others (mainly female) measuring it against the backdrop of the #MeToo era and finding it disconcerting. That it’s controversial is the only thing they seem to agree on. As Guardian critic Mark Fisher remarked, “Ireland can make you laugh and doubt the wisdom of your laughter at the same time.”
Lucianne McEvoy plays Ruth, the playwright from Northern Ireland. She’s inhabited Ruth’s skin for a while now, playing the character in productions around the UK, and she’s currently winging her way to New Zealand, where she’ll reprise her role during the Auckland Arts Festival.
Ruth, according to McEvoy, is “very focused and driven, ambitious and passionate, articulate and intelligent.” Ulster American is “like that ride in the theme park that no one dares to go on. It’s a bit scary but you’ll laugh at how appalled you are to be sat there going through the experience.”
When three creatives come together to try to create art with very different views and motivations, you can imagine the kind of fireworks that ensue. Leigh the director wants to stage a successful production about a country grappling with the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Ray the actor wants to reconnect with his Irish roots. Ruth the playwright wants her voice to be heard. But she also wants fame – and lines may be crossed along the way.
“She wants her play to go on and to be a huge success,” McEvoy says. “She wants her story to be told and celebrated and she wants affirmation as a writer. I believe that after this night Ruth will get whatever she wants.”
Audiences are in for a wild ride, particularly given the global backdrop of the current #MeToo movement. The play was written before #MeToo hit the headlines, but it’s almost eerily prophetic. “The world is now catching up with the play,” McEvoy says. “[Ulster American] exposes the deep hypocrisy of all three characters, all of whom try to disguise their selfish motivations with a false championing of some kind of social justice.”
McEvoy is a feminist. “Yes – ‘of course I’m a feminist, how can I not be’ – to quote the play. If you believe in equality, then you are a feminist.” She fell into acting when she was 15, after she found “a bunch of fellow misfits” at her local theatre, and she has some sage advice for young women wanting to follow in her footsteps to tread the boards. “Don’t get your sense of self-worth from the job because it’s a fickle and disloyal partner.”
She’s looking forward to seeing her New Zealand-based sister, who will be flying up from Christchurch to watch Ulster American in Auckland. “She fell asleep during the last show she came to see me in… somehow I don’t think that will happen this time.”
The Auckland Arts Festival’s Ulster American will play at the ASB Waterfront Theatre from the 20thto the 24thof March. Tickets can be purchased here.
This content was sponsored by the Auckland Arts Festival.Support Villainesse