David Ireland’s newest play is premiering at the Traverse theatre this Fringe at a time where it couldn’t be more relevant, thought-provoking and achingly uncomfortable if it tried. This play is 2018’s version of old absurdist classics like Ionesco’s Rhinoceros and definitely draws more awkward laughs from its audience than our proper PC selves would like to admit a script such as this should be able to rightly do.
Two men and one woman meet to discuss the play they are working on and how to make it an instant hit. A brash Oscar-brandishing American actor (Jay – Darrell D’Silva), a ridiculously prim and proper British director (Leigh – Robert Jack) and the Irish -excuse me British – playwright (Ruth – Lucianne McEvoy).
The show explores sexism, misogynism, xenophobia, sectarianism and religious intolerance presenting conversations between the characters, as pairs or as a trio, investigating how people can bend their morals or opinions to the situation. Leigh is a prime example, brilliantly portrayed by Jack, showing the audience multiple facets of his personality from placating Brit to a frustrated director and finally a hypocritical man. At the start, he holds a conversation with Jay, a bulldozer of a man with such outrageous opinions, that the audience feels inclined to laugh even though they wince as they listen to him. Leigh winces too but eager to please the Oscar-winning actor he allows him to talk and gets caught up in D’Silva’s whirlwind steamrolling ahead. At one point the conversation turns to a hypothetical situation where Leigh attempts to stand his ground, insisting he has morals and is uncomfortable with imagining such a thing. At least with D’Silva’s character, Jay, the audience is immediately aware of his blundering sexism and his double standards. As brash and horrid as he may be there is a certain truth to Jay that cannot be denied. He is atrocious, disgusting and loud but he is the necessary mouthpiece to help prove Ireland’s point. As we watch, Leigh fold to pressure from Jay the audience can no longer excuse Leigh’s actions as prim British politeness and instead can see how it is often the silent or quiet bystanders that allow such casual sexism or racism or whatever nasty thing is being said happens. Once someone partakes in the abuse or the hypotheticals the gateway is opened.
Just after the two male characters have proclaimed themselves feminists (so feminist that they’d love to be a woman if only they weren’t so straight) Ruth, McEvoy enters. The female audience members breathe a sigh of relief as the woman enters and they hope will restore some rationality and destroy these men and their misogynistic views. They aren’t disappointed but *excuse the French* shit will hit the fan before Ruth can put them in their place. A disturbing scene unfolds as we watch Ruth fawn over Jay, unaware of all he has just said and how under his charm lies disrespect and vulgar views. Eventually, through an argument over Ruth’s nationality (Ruth from Northern Ireland identifies as British but Jay signed onto a play by an Irish female playwright) true colours are revealed. Leigh reveals his hypocrisy – first turning on Jay before rapidly backtracking in desperation as he incorrectly assumes that Jay is more vital to the play’s success and his efforts would be best placed placating Jay as opposed to supporting his friend Ruth (because woman are hysterical and will calm down eventually). Here again, Ireland explores the ideas of truth and perception. It appears Ruth was previously content with Leigh’s description of her as an Irish playwright when it was positive but when Jay puts her nationality under question she wishes to counter and reclaim her British cultural identity.
One is never completely sure in the play who is most at fault, who has made a mistake and who deserves their comeuppance. As the play descends into violence, quickly and quite gorily, the audience is forced to watch the scenes unfold and think how easily three characters were provoked and offended. Three people who had been so eager to meet, had previously been so excited by each other’s ideas, on meeting each other, had quickly descended down a wormhole of insults and abuse – destroying each other’s dreams and stripping each other of any respect or self-identity. Ireland’s play, brilliantly acted by three superb professionals, is without doubt one of the best plays on this Fringe and if every production is as slick, smooth and jaw-droppingly shocking one of the best of the decade. I would defy anyone to watch it and not enjoy, learn from and leave thinking about what a mess the world could easily end up in.