Toxic masculinity, fake 'wokeness', and the jungle of post-#MeToo showbiz

Digging into the big, timely themes behind Ulster American

After playing to sold-out houses and five-star reviews in 2021, Outhouse Theatre Co’s brilliant production of Ulster American returns to the Seymour from 15 June.

Gleefully skewering the powerful and the privileged in post-#MeToo showbiz, this fast-paced firecracker is brazen and brutally hilarious, and to celebrate its highly anticipated encore run, we decided to delve into some of the themes that make it so timely today.

Tackling the big-ticket issues

Ulster American playwright, David Ireland, is best known for shining an unflinching light on society’s flaws, for writing challenging, ferociously funny plays that make waves and speak truth to power.

‘My intentions are never to offend, but when I am writing a play I never think about the audience,’ Ireland has said to Irish News. ‘It is about the play and what happens next.’

Creating a stir for its provocative examination of identity, gender politics, and power, no Ireland play offers a better example of this than Ulster American – and with #MeToo conversations swirling in the entertainment industry, its showbiz setting only lends the play greater cultural relevance.

A performance about performance

Ulster American explores the ease with which close-minded people can present as broad-minded, laying bare the particular hypocrisy of men who feign progressiveness to mask toxic masculinity and deep-seated disdain for women.

In fact, the two male leads in the play – actor, Jay, and theatre director, Leigh – serve as real-life metaphors for the double standards that keep oppressive structures alive: at first, the men are all for supporting the work of their female colleague, Ruth, and seem delighted to collaborate on her ambitious new play.

But as the drama unfolds, it soon becomes clear that Jay and Leigh’s progressiveness is simply a costume donned to preserve their status in a fast-changing industry, and that the men support women’s rights only in theory. Real, true female empowerment might jeopardise their own success – or threaten the power structures that have served them their whole lives.

Power dynamics in the showbiz jungle

The entertainment industry has been in the spotlight since 2017, when allegations against film mogul, Harvey Weinstein, prompted a reckoning on gender inequity and harassment in Hollywood.

Debuting with a bang in 2018, Ulster American could not have been timelier, and with the worst parts of showbiz kept behind closed doors for so long, it’s both fascinating and frightening to watch the industry’s sexist power dynamics play out freely on stage, with Jay and Leigh patronising and belittling as Ruth, who knows they’re her ticket to success, tries to keep her cool.

‘For me, [this play has] always been about what you can and can't say,’ says Ireland. ‘What the character of the actor says is pretty offensive and shocking, but the point of the play is that he says it, and if someone says something like that in a private situation and they have power, how do you respond? What's the right thing to do?’

Feisty, ferocious, and painfully relevant, there's good reason why this provocative play wowed critics and audiences last year. Don’t miss the special encore run of Ulster American, playing at the Seymour from 15 to 18 June.

 

Image credit: Richard Farland

27 May 2022

After playing to sold-out houses and five-star reviews in 2021, the acclaimed Outhouse Theatre Co brings this provocative and brutally hilarious production back to where it all began.

Buy tickets

After playing to sold-out houses and five-star reviews in 2021, the acclaimed Outhouse Theatre Co brings this provocative and brutally hilarious production back to where it all began.

Buy tickets

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