Get to know the cast of the 'Ulster American' London revival
David Ireland's blistering satire, at Riverside Studios through 27 January, features the notable trio of Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, and Louisa Harland.
Three exciting actors join forces to star in a major London revival of David Ireland’s 2018 dark comedy, Ulster American. Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, and Louisa Harland lead Jeremy Herrin’s production at Riverside Studios, which plays a limited eight-week season from 4 December to 27 January.
Of course, that trio of performers is already popular with audiences, thanks to the numerous screen credits between them – including Cheers, The Hunger Games, True Detective, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Planet of the Apes, and Derry Girls.
Read on to get to know this cast even better, and find out more about their roles in Ulster American.
Book Ulster American tickets on London Theatre.
What is Ulster American about?
Northern Irish playwright David Ireland premiered Ulster American in 2018 at the Traverse Theatre during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This provocative satire centres on an American actor, an English director, and (like Ireland) a Northern Irish playwright, who all have different aims with their latest project: a West End play about a Protestant activist.
The Oscar-winning actor, Jay, is fixated on connecting with his Irish roots, while playwright Ruth has Hollywood ambitions. Director Leigh hopes the play will reflect a divided Britain just after the Brexit referendum.
In a fraught session at Leigh’s flat, they descend into furious arguments over everything from national identity and gender to politics and anti-PC speech. It’s very much a play for our times, presenting Ulster American's big issues in a razor-sharp, blisteringly funny way — and with of-the-moment stars to boot.
Hollywood A-lister Woody Harrelson stars as Jay. Born in 1961 in Texas, he got his big break in 1985 when he was cast as the endearing but dim bartender Woody in the hit sitcom Cheers. Harrelson received five Emmy Award nominations and won once during his eight seasons on the programme.
He guest starred on several other TV shows, including Cheers spin-off Frasier, Will & Grace, The Simpsons, and Spin City. In 2014, Harrelson co-starred with Matthew McConaughey in the acclaimed first season of crime drama True Detective. In 2023, he starred in White House Plumbers, which tells the true story of how Richard Nixon’s political operatives accidentally overturned his presidency.
But Harrelson’s career went stratospheric on the big screen. He made his movie debut in 1986 with sports comedy Wildcats and soon racked up many notable credits, including the Oscar-winning films No Country for Old Men and Three Billboads Outside Ebbing, Missouri. He also starred opposite Robert Redford and Demi Moore in the zeitgeist drama Indecent Proposal, in which a billionaire offers a cash-strapped couple $1 million for a night with her.
Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the 1996 film The People vs Larry Flynt. He played Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. In 2009, Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar again for playing Captain Tony Stone in war film The Messenger.
From 2012, Harrelson starred in The Hunger Games film series as Haymitch Abernathy. In 2017, Harrelson worked with his Ulster American co-star Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes.
Harrelson has plenty of theatre experience, too. He made his Broadway debut in 1985 in Biloxi Blues and starred in the Off-Broadway production of The Boys Next Door in 1987. In 1999, he returned to Broadway with The Rainmaker, and in 2005 he made his West End debut with the Tennessee Williams play The Night of the Iguana.
English actor Andy Serkis plays Leigh in Ulster American. Serkis was born in Middlesex in 1964 and developed a passion for acting while studying at Lancaster University.
Serkis began working in touring productions of plays like Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and King Lear. He built up steady credits in both TV and film, including the Mike Leigh period musical Topsy-Turvy and episodes of Spooks, Finney, and Touching Evil.
In 1999, he played the villainous Bill Sikes in a TV adaptation of Oliver Twist, and he was Rigaud in another Dickens adaptation, Little Dorrit, in 2008. In 2006 he played serial killer Ian Brady in Longford, and he starred as Albert Einstein in the 2008 TV movie Einstein and Eddington.
However, another literary adaptation, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, made Serkis a global phenomenon. He played Gollum in the first film of the trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, mastering cutting-edge motion-capture technology and also providing the character’s unforgettable voice.
Serkis reprised the role in The Two Towers, The Return of the King, and in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He played more motion-capture roles in King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its two sequels, The Adventures of Tintin, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Serkis also played punk rocker Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, villain Ulysses Klaue in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther, and butler Alfred in The Batman.
In 1995, Serkis starred in the Royal Court’s production of Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. But he hasn’t done much theatre otherwise, so Ulster American is a rare chance to catch him on stage.
Irish actress Louisa Harland stars as Northern Irish playwright Ruth. Harland was born in 1993 in Dublin and moved to London to train at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
In 2011, Harland made her professional debut in the RTÉ One crime drama series Love/Hate, in a recurring role over four episodes. Most audiences know Harland, however, for playing Orla in the smash-hit sitcom Derry Girls from 2018-2022. Lisa McGee’s beloved show centres on teenagers living in Derry during The Troubles in the 1990s.
Harland won praise for her vivid portrayal of Orla, the cousin of the show’s lead character, Erin. Many viewers identify with her proudly eccentric character – whether seeing her as on the autistic spectrum, or simply someone who isn’t afraid to be different.
In 2017, she worked with her Ulster American co-star Woody Harrelson for the first time, playing Stella in the independent film Lost in London. Harrelson wrote, starred in, and directed the autobiographical tale based on a real, wild night out in the city.
Harland also appeared in the 2020 TV drama The Deceived, led by Emmett J Scanlan and Paul Mescal. Coming up, Harland will star in Sally Wainwright’s historical drama The Ballad of Renegade Nell, about highwaywoman Nell Jackson.
Harland has theatre experience, too. She began with Cotton Fingers at Aberaeron Memorial Hall in Wales in 2018, and then did two shows in London: Caryl Churchill’s Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp. at the Royal Court in 2019, and, earlier this year, Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa at the National Theatre – which reunited her with her Derry Girls co-star Siobhán McSweeney.
See these three brilliant performers in one show. Book Ulster American tickets on London Theatre.
Top image credit: Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis, and Louisa Harland. (Photos courtesy of production)
In-article image credit: The cast of Ulster American in rehearsal. (Photos by Johan Persson)
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