Interview: Gareth Nicholls on Ulster American

Gareth Nicholls talks about adapting the provocative Ulster American for international audiences

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Ulster American
Photo by Sid Scott
Published 07 Mar 2019

Ulster American explores themes of power abuse, consent and gender politics.

"It will be fascinating to see if audiences in Australia respond to the play with the same energy and passion as they did in Scotland," says director Gareth Nicholls. "I really hope, and suspect, that they will, as the comedy within it and ideas around abuse of power are truly universal."

Although the play is set in Ireland, Nicholls isn't concerned about a loss of translation over the seas. "It touches on universal themes such as identity and gender politics – themes that are absolutely at the forefront of people's minds around the world with no sign of abating."

These themes are particularly prevalent in a post #MeToo world. "What it has to say about power and entitlement in light of the #MeToo revelations is fascinating," says Nicholls. "In fact it couldn’t be more relevant and I’m sure it will provoke some fierce conversations long into the night afterwards."

Having premiered last year in Edinburgh, Nicholls is faced with the challenge of directing a new work and adapting it to various cultures. "We’ve been incredibly rigorous with what the piece is saying politically and culturally, spending a long time testing each and every word and its implications within the story," he says. "We've taken time with the text and that has been an incredibly rewarding process.

"Ulster American deals with abuse of power, consent and male privilege." He adds that writer David Ireland "tackles these issues head-on with writing that's witty, confronting and brutal, and creates a hilarious satire that exposes the characters' grotesque nature in an utterly compelling and enlightening manner."

The modern world is waiting for a play like Ulster American. There are references to Brexit, but Nicholls isn't concerned that this will reduce the accessibility of the piece. "The play raises some big questions around identity – who we identify ourselves as, who other people identify us as and where the gaps are in between the two.

"We live in a period where nationalism, anti-immigration policies and bigotry seems to be on the rise around the world, but Ulster American isn't scared to ask uncomfortable truths of its characters and the world they inhabit."