Reviews are coming in for Jeremy Herrin’s new production of Ulster American at Riverside Studios, starring Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland.
David Ireland’s award-winning social satire features an all-star cast including Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson (True Detective, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as Oscar-winning American actor Jay Conway, with BAFTA and Emmy award-winner Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Batman) as English director Leigh Carver, and Louisa Harland (Derry Girls, Dancing at Lughnasa) playing Northern Irish playwright Ruth Davenport.
Directed by Jeremy Herrin, the play sees an Oscar -winning American actor, an English director and a Northern Irish playwright are about to begin rehearsals for a new play – one that could transform each of their careers. But when it turns out that they’re not on the same page, the night threatens to spiral out of control. The play centres on power dynamics, cultural identity and the perils of being a woman in the entertainment industry, where nothing is off limits in this pitch-black comedy.
Ulster American is now playing at Riverside Studios in London until 27 January 2024.
Read Ulster American reviews from the Evening Standard, The Telegraph and more, with further reviews to be added.
Ulster American reviews
"Woody Harrelson is the grisly epitome of mansplaining insufferability"
"The Cheers star is having a ball in this insider take on the facile side of showbiz"
"As with the comparable David Mamet satire, Speed-the-Plow, much entertainment value resides in the insiderly depiction of facile, cliché-spouting showbiz. And as with that play, there’s a pivotal, patronised female character - here, Louisa Harland’s swiftly incredulous Ruth."
"It will surely divide opinion and Jeremy Herrin’s production also invites complaints of over-statement – there’s a slight strain to some moments, now the play is set before a larger crowd. And yet, aside from a denouement that achieves that rare thing, shock-value, the evening offers the unmistakable pleasure that an actor of Harrelson’s stature has bothered to come over, and throw himself into a gleeful portrait of a visiting Yank as the grisly epitome of preening, mansplaining insufferability."
"Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis are on top form in savage satire of Hollywood hypocrisy"
"David Ulster’s comedy is so messed up that watching it makes you feel tainted – but it’s also violently funny"
"Ulster American is a comedy that’s so messed up that watching it makes you feel tainted, somehow (it’s worse if you actually laugh!). Jeremy Herrin’s all-star revival dials up the surrealism in this 2018 Edinburgh fringe hit to produce something violently funny, the ghost of a message rising from the carnage."
"Director Herrin brings out the very best in this starry trio of actors. Harrelson’s performance is huge, physical and ridiculous... It’s on the edge of too much, but it’s tempered by Serkis’s quiet self-loathing and pierced by Harland’s incredulous facial expressions or white hot justified fury."
"... Ireland’s satire is weird and dark enough to have retained its bite. It’s a bracing, brutal reminder of the hypocrisy that lurks underneath lofty ideals."
"Woody Harrelson sends himself up mercilessly"
"This deliberately offensive farce makes audiences guffaw one minute and recoil the next"
Jeremy Herrin’s production makes you guffaw one minute and recoil the next, partly because splendid gags sit alongside sequences in which the two men “hypothetically” discuss rape and Ruth defends the killing of innocent civilians, both of which land terribly right now. This is part of the point: there’s no time when such things should seem comfortable, and we’re more outraged by a jokey fiction than by awful fact. But the play is lazy, the characters forced into absurd and improbable positions by the writer’s agenda."
"Jay is a caricature but Harrelson’s performance of him is a masterpiece of timing and technique, from his yoga posing to his chin-juts"
"The violent ending is both hilarious and gratuitous. It’s pretty amazing that Woody Harrelson’s in Hammersmith over the Christmas period, but the vehicle he’s arrive in is a dodgy one."
"Woody Harrelson is a force of nature – but this play loses the plot"
"This Riverside Studios production brilliantly skewers the ego of celebrity - but the final 20 minutes are nothing less than purgatorial"
"... what is delightfully evident from the start of Jeremy Herrin’s production is the easy but magnetic charisma of Harrelson, who is a force of nature. I never imagined that a smoothie could be drunk, or an orange eaten, with such potent wordless eloquence."
"Ireland is on strong ground when he is skewering the monstrous ego of celebrity, although Serkis overplays Leigh’s kowtowing to Jay. As Jay and Ruth harden in their stances, Leigh’s desperate vacillations between the pair, as well as his crude rank-pulling towards Ruth, come to seem ever more unconvincing. Ireland increasingly opts for being heavy-handed and farcical where subtlety would have served him way better. The final 20 minutes of the 100-minute running time are nothing less than purgatorial."
"The phenomenal cast of Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland are often savagely funny, but the constant rape jokes are just too much"
"Ireland’s play is a simultaneously brilliant and infuriating social satire"
"What the play is truly wonderful at is skewering the incomprehension of Northern Ireland by both the English and Americans."
"Where the original production went about all this in fairly unsubtle fashion, Herrin’s is beautifully weighted, with his stars really digging into the material. Harrelson is superb as Jay... Serkis is great too"
"And lesser-known cast member Harland more than holds her own as Ruth, whose initial bubbly excitement to be working with Jay gives way to an insouciant intransigence."
"A superb cast and director, but as with the original production, I struggled with the proportion of the play that hinges on rape jokes."
"Woody Harrelson and co fire off David Ireland’s machine-gun provocations"
"Jeremy Herrin’s rapid, bright production has all-round strong performances from a starry cast."
"Ireland’s determined outrageousness – on the subject of misogyny he has a close-to-the-wind rape joke – can detract from his more needling arguments. Yet time and again he nonchalantly trips me into laughter"
"An exuberant Woody Harrelson in over-the-top satire"
"Jeremy Herrin’s revival of a piece that was first staged at the Traverse in Edinburgh in 2018 turns the comic dial up to 11. Much of the dialogue is delivered at a sitcom pitch, drawing an exuberant performance from the Hollywood star Woody Harrelson"
"... Harrelson gives such a winningly preposterous display, flouncing around Max Jones’s sleek set in a pair of outrageous pantaloons, that you’re willing to overlook the implausibilities."
"Andy Serkis is perfect as passive-aggressive Leigh, whose right-on veneer conceals a core of snobbery. Louisa Harland impresses too as the writer Ruth Davenport"
"Woody Harrelson excels in blood-spattered satire"
"Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland co-star in a play about a play about the Troubles"
"At the Riverside Studios, Woody Harrelson is to be found in fine form in David Ireland’s Ulster American, playing obnoxious Hollywood A-lister Jay"
"When Ruth refuses, the misogyny and incipient violence that have been lurking in the previous conversation erupt and the play shifts from dark comedy to blood-spattered farce. This doesn’t quite come off: it feels awkward and the play is at its best as toe-curling satire. But Jeremy Herrin’s production is fabulously acted, from Harland’s shrewd, sceptical Ruth to Serkis’s creepy, desperate Leigh to Harrelson’s brilliantly funny, volatile Jay, who prowls the stage like an uncaged panther."
"Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis perfectly awful in anarchic comedy"
"David Ireland’s explosive satire turns into farce as two buffoons parading as progressives team up with a dramatist played by Louisa Harland"
"David Ireland’s 2018 no-holds-barred black comedy comes with the too emphatic post #MeToo message that behind every self-proclaimed male feminist and seemingly evolved liberal luvvie lies a monster. The more serious point is that gross misogyny needs male complicity in order to function, and so requires men to be brave enough to call it out."
"Harrelson, making a return to the UK stage after almost two decades, is thrillingly awful as Jay"
"Directed by Jeremy Herrin, the best and most delicious dark comedy comes in the earlier scenes when it is pure, uproarious satire and these men are exposed as buffoons. They are laugh-out-loud funny one minute, skin crawling the next. But as satire gives way to farce, the plot becomes more absurd, the dialogue circular, the characters flattened to cartoon monstrousness."
"Relentless clowning diffuses the tension"
"Woody Harrelson stars in this high-energy revival of David Ireland’s controversial parody of power, privilege and hypocrisy"
"For all its discussion of gender, nationalism and sexual violence, David Ireland’s controversial 2018 satire never attempts to confront its weighty issues head on. Instead, Ireland deploys pitch-black humour to explore the many ways in which living in a systemically unequal society forces us all constantly to compromise our values."
"Jeremy Herrin’s production, starring Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis, is staged as full-on farce. Herrin gives his big-name cast free rein to milk the text for every possible laugh, and chucks in a flurry of sight gags for good measure. It is often quite funny, but the relentless clowning interrupts the play’s rhythm, diffusing the tension and menace that should be building in the background."