Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN?

David Ireland's dark comedy comes to London's Riverside Studios for eight weeks only.

By: Dec. 14, 2023
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Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN?
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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.

Power dynamics, cultural identity and the perils of being a woman in the entertainment industry; nothing is off limits in this pitch-black comedy from the award-winning playwright David Ireland.

The eight week run starring Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland has now opened; so what did the critics think?

Photo Credit: Johan Perrson

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Aliya Al-Hassan, BroadwayWorld: Ulster American is filled with the blackest humour; Ireland is a writer who often makes you laugh, then immediately consider whether you should have done so. The production feels so compelling in large part to the incredible performances from the three actors involved.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: 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.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Dave Fargnoli, The Stage: 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. Rather than drawing a clear connecting line from the grubby locker-room talk of the play’s first few minutes to the brutal violence of its closing moments, Herrin instead leaves us with a series of amusing but disjointed punchlines.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Theo Bosanquet, WhatsOnStage: Harrelson hasn’t been on stage for nearly 20 years, apparently put off by his experience doing Night of the Iguana in the West End in 2005. But it’s such a joy to see him back, in a role that plays to his clear comedy instincts (it’s easy to forget his big break was Cheers), and seems a perfect fit for an actor with his genuine star wattage. Serkis too has largely foregone theatre in favour of blockbusters, but reminds us what he’s capable of in a performance that captures the increasing desperation of a man who will literally say anything to ensure the show – and his career – goes on.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Nick Curtis, The Standard: The play is lazy, the characters forced into absurd and improbable positions by the writer’s agenda. And behind the subjects it ostensibly confronts – misogyny, sexual violence, identity politics, cancellation by social media – I think it’s also about how awful it is to be a writer and have your work mutilated and misunderstood by idiot actors, directors and critics.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Clive Davis, The Times: Absurdity is piled on absurdity. Some of the jokes at Jay’s expense reminded me of The Strike, that marvellous little Comic Strip film in which a fictional version of Al Pacino sets about rewriting the miners’ strike when he plays Arthur Scargill on the big screen. Ireland’s writing isn’t as ingenious as that, but 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. The moment when Jay, who delivers a few slaps at theatre critics, reveals that he is just as desperate for acclaim as any of his fellow thespians provoked a storm of laughter.

Review Roundup: Did Woody Harrelson Hit the Mark in ULSTER AMERICAN? Matt Wolf, London Theatre: There’s certainly no faulting Harrelson or colleagues Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland, all of whom fully inhabit the play’s freefall from satire to something deeply savage. At a time when people watch their language more than ever, Ireland knows how to wound with words. I’ve rarely heard laughter in the theatre so regularly punctuated by gasps.


Average Rating: 68.6%


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