Woody Harrelson is to return to the London stage in a new production of David Ireland’s controversial black comedy Ulster American this winter.
Harrelson will star as a hotshot American actor in the satire, with Lord of the Rings’ Andy Serkis playing an English theatre director and Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland taking the role of a playwright from Northern Ireland whose drama about a violent Protestant activist the trio are about to stage.
Ulster American received five-star reviews for its uproarious approach to identity politics, gender relations and the #MeToo movement when it was first staged at the Traverse theatre in 2018 as part of the Edinburgh festival. The Guardian’s Mark Fisher called it “as timely as it is riotous”, a play where “a mobile phone primed with an unsent tweet is as unsettling as a loaded stage gun”.
The new staging, which opens at Riverside Studios in December, will be directed by Jeremy Herrin for Second Half Productions. Ireland, whose unsettling and subversive plays include Cyprus Avenue, “manages to skewer pretension in its many guises” said Herrin, who praised the playwright’s fearlessness and called Ulster American “a rollercoaster”.
Harrelson, who starred earlier this year in the TV series White House Plumbers, has previously appeared in the West End in John Kolvenbach’s On An Average Day in 2002, opposite Kyle MacLachlan, and in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana in 2005, alongside Clare Higgins. He starred on screen with Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) and with Harland in Lost in London (2017), which he also directed.
Harland said she was “totally made up” about the project. Serkis said: “I’m beyond thrilled to have this out-of-the-blue opportunity to return to the stage alongside my dear friend, the incomparable Woody Harrelson, and the most excellent Louisa Harland, in David Ireland’s fabulously scabrous, searingly funny, and razor-sharp satire. I had been searching for quite some time for a piece of theatre that really spoke to me, and suddenly boom! … This amazing crystallisation of (among many things) what it even means to be an artist in a post-truth world, pops up in my inbox. Challenging, confrontational, daring. A mighty serious piece of commentary wrapped up in a cringe-fest of fun.”