Theatrical: ‘Ulster American’ and ‘In our veins’

On Tuesday I attended the Abbey Theatre (main stage) to see ‘Ulster American’ – a black, farcical comedy by David Ireland, directed by Gareth Nicholls.
Jay Conway (Darrell D’Silva) is a megalomaniacal, Oscar winning Oirish-American actor who has accepted a role in a new West End play about the Troubles in the north of Ireland. One evening – the night before rehearsals begin – he is loudly and boastfully pontificating about his ‘wokeness’, at the home of the English director Leigh Carver (Robert Jack). They are waiting for the arrival of the playwright Ruth Davenport (Lucianne McEvoy) who hails from the North. While they are waiting he poses a  question – can rape every be excused?

He believes he is entitled to ask this because in his mind he has singlehandedly done more for feminism; gay rights and race relations than anyone. Carver – mesmerised by the presence of Hollywood royalty – plays along without challenging Conway. When Davenport arrives the realisation that the script she has written does not mirror the romantic vision that Conway had about playing an Irish rebel, leads to dramatic confrontation and extreme violence.
An entertaining play that was originally written for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, you can see its origins in the simple but effective set. It is located in a living room – therefore  easy to stage in a much smaller space than the Abbey stage. The script is sharp, witty, foul-mouthed and outrageous. The three actors give bravura, over the top performances – I particularly liked Robert Jack’s performance of the wheedling, spineless Leigh Carver. A criticism I’d offer would be the complete, lack of breathing space. The play runs at breakneck speed, throughout and the audience doesn’t have time to draw breath. However as the running time is eighty minutes it doesn’t become overwhelming. ‘Ulster American’ packs a punch. It runs nightly in the Abbey until 20 April. Worth seeing.

On Thursday I was back the Abbey – this time to the Peacock Theatre in the basement, to see ‘In our veins’ by Lee Coffey. Directed by Maisie Lee it is a co-production between the Abbey and Bitter Like a Lemon company.

‘In our veins’ tells the tale of a Dublin Docklands family over a century, and takes a look at a world that has now disappeared. Gathered in Coolock, at the wake of Little Paul Doyle, his wife Esther tells her family about his history.

Ann Brady was a country girl, recently arrived in Dublin, who struggled to make ends meet. Living in the hallways of a tenement slum in the Monto (once the largest red light district in Europe, and now my home area) Ann is approached by May Oblong – a seemingly caring pimp at a Monto kiphouse. Ann becomes one of May’s most successful prostitutes until she becomes an ‘unfortunate girl’ (pregnant). Cast out by Oblong, Ann gives birth to her son, who she leaves at the doorstep of the woman who had helped her to give birth.

Mr and Mrs Doyle are a couple who live in the Monto. Paul is a docker, who toils shovelling coal in the Dublin docks, his precarious employment dependent each day at being called at the ‘read’ – whereby the casual dock workers would be hired. Not being hired meant not eating. Ann’s son Little Paul follows in his adoptive dad’s footsteps down the Docks.

The ensemble cast of six all play several roles in this piece – understandable seeing as the play is set across four generations of one family. It is easy to identify with the tale of a recent time and place in Irish history that has now vanished – technology  rendered dockers obsolete. It is refreshing to watch a piece of theatre that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. I go to the theatre for the main part to be entertained, not to be harangued. ‘In our veins’ is a well scripted, confidently acted tale of ordinary people – told in a revolutionary new style – this play has a beginning, a middle and an end, and entertains the crowd while doing so.

The portrayal of ordinary, daycent, salt of the earth Dubbelin folk is the romantic view that Dubliners have of themselves. It is  endearing in this instance. The entire cast acquitted themselves admirably.  An excellent piece of theatre that runs  until April 20th in the Peacock, I’d recommend ‘In our veins’.

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