Culture: Ulster American (Play) at Adelaide Festival

 When you're new to a place, you make some schoolboy (or schoolgirl) errors. Mainly schoolboy.

Misreading Google Maps is one of those problems. When you want to walk somewhere and switch it on, even though the little torch icon points you in (allegedly) the right direction, I have to set off in a direction before realising it's not the right direction. This usually happens when you've run out of free Wi-fi when you're on your holliers in a remote location and you end up loitering in a McDonalds trying to get your fecking iPhone to connect to the freebie connection before someone asks you to buy an Oreo McFlurry.

According to Google, the venue for my Next Big Outing with Anuna-days chum, Toby (read about our eating here!), was simply too far to reach and so I ordered up a cab so I would definitely be on time. The day was March 17th, the venerable St Patrick's Day, my Name Day, and I was treating myself.


By the time the cab showed up and shuffled along in the early afternoon traffic, I realised the venue was about a ten minute walk from the hotel. It took 20 in the cab. Bleddy Google Maps.

As I meandered through the gardens on the way to the Dunstan Playhouse at the Adelaide Festival Centre, ‘Oirish' sounds were emerging from the sports centre you can see in the picture above. A Dubliners-alike band were thrashing out some familiar tunes and I could see Irish dancers in the distance, their polyester bounce-wigs floating in the heat eddies of the hot Adelaide day.

Going to see “Ulster American”, a new play by David Ireland, but confusingly categorised by the Festival as from Scotland, with two friends from Ireland seemed enormously fitting.


 I realised as I took this alarming selfie outside the venue that I hadn't lathered myself in the Factor 50 sun cream required to survive in Australian sunshine. I pounded across the pavement to the theatre venue.

Uniformly, every Australian theatre I visited (and I visited about 10) were of a type, small-ish (500-1200 seaters) and there appeared to have been a building boom in the 60s and 70s for theatres. This one was built in the year of my birth, 1974 (I know, it hardly seems plausible).


 Toby and Niamh, his astonishing wife, appeared but moments later and we realised that the standard middle-aged outfit has become white shirt, light trousers and brown shoes. I'm glad to have been (albeit briefly) in style! We pepped ourselves up with a glass of sparkles and before we had taken a sip, the klaxons announced that all patrons were to make their way into the theatre.

I knew NOTHING of the play. We found our spots, on stage right, and settled in, the stage set as if it were a modern apartment.


 ‘Ulster American' will soon head to the West End (and beyond?) after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe. Indeed, it's based around the West End when an Oscar winner, an English director and a Northern Irish playwright meet up in the director's flat to run through this new play. It faces a number of taboos straight on, some of the assumptions about Northern Ireland made me annoyed (I suspect it annoys everyone from all heritages), and there are some laugh-out-loud moments.

While it addresses prejudices that are hard baked into stereotypes of not only the Northern Irish, the English and Americans, it does so with sufficient detail to have left some of my friends' Australian colleagues lost, when we discussed it with them afterwards. There was enough in the broader brush-strokes of plot and sub-plot to entertain, all the same, although I found the stronger satirical elements sacrificed in the almost-farcical ending, which was pretty unsatisfying.


 This marked the start of a delicious final day in Adelaide! Although I managed to lose my head and left my phone under my seat (the wonderful staff found it for me as soon as we ran back), it didn't dull a lovely meander through town that found us back at La Rambla, the restaurant I tried on the first night in Adelaide a week earlier.

If only Google Maps could help my lovely Irish friends to set their mobiles for home and bring them back… But that, my readers, is a story for another day.