Monday, April 30, 2007

REVIEW: The Cavalcaders (The Abbey, Dublin)

Nobody could accuse Billy Roche of chasing the hipster audience in The Cavalcaders. In fact, the Wexford playwright's period piece about the failed lives of a barbershop quartet, set in a scruffy small town cobblers has "granny" written all over it. First performed at the Abbey in 1993, after Roche had made a name for himself in England, the play looks back at the betrayals -- small and large, real and imagined -- that have shaped a group of souls trapped in a drab kind of nowhere.

The shoe repair business run by Terry (Stephen Brennan) has closed down, and a heel bar, with its while-u-wait fixes, is on its way. There'll be no more attention to detail, Terry suggests, before being reminded that there never was any. Even the soulless march of faceless capital seems like a reasonable alternative to the status quo around here. Terry is sad which we should know because Brennan stares at the ground a good deal. But to make it absolutely clear, he's written a song for the quartet that makes mention of staring at your shoes with tears in your eyes.

Roche's play then flits backwards and forwards in time until we finally know who betrayed who, with whom, and in what location: everyone with everyone else, everywhere, if you're curious. The various denouements are broken up with occasional close-harmony singing in the manner that Denis Potter made voguish in the 1980s, and in the end nobody lives happily ever after -- except in their dreams and memories.

Robin Lefèvre's direction look a little flat at times, with the more mechanical moments of Roche's play showing through. Brennan's Terry, for example, comes across too often as simply mopey. Support from John Kavanagh (as the moribund celibate, Josie) is springy and entertaining, as is Garrett Lombard's Rory, even if the senior actor gives a better indication that something is going on beneath the surface. Bad poetry aside, Simone Kirby's Nuala is detailed and consistent enough to make you wonder why everybody keeps calling her mad.

And the star of the show? The Abbey auditorium refit makes the place look good, and helps a member of the audience feel just that -- a member of something. Sadly, the seats aren't particularly comfortable, and the unbroken runs of the front few rows mean that plenty of thank yous and sorrys will be required to get to yours. Well, it's one way of making friends.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Garrett Lombard's Cavalcade

"Yes, I've been waiting for someone to give me the magic call. And he we are…," says Wexford-born actor, Garrett Lombard, about finally getting to perform in a play by the poet-laureate of his county, Billy Roche.

Lombard had never seen the Roche play in which he makes his Abbey debut, The Cavalcaders -- though he'd read it more than once. But he was already a confirmed Roche fan, catching other episodes of the Wexford's playwright oeuvre, both in Dublin and on the Amateur drama circuit.

Naturally enough, seeing all those good, chunky roles calling for the casting a head from Wexford got him thinking. After all, he could do the accent. Or could he? For the play he is having to find his way back into the Wexford accent that, he admits, has softened a great deal since he left Gorey.

"When I was 12 or 13, we had really strong Wexford accents, but it's faded a lot now. But it is easy enough to get it back," says Lombard, drifting into something twangy and entirely convincing: "It's kinda nasal. And singy-songy, you know. They also put on extra words at the end of the sentences, you know, like. Lots of extra words."

He stops and adds in a more drama school tone: "It's a bit odd; like revisiting my childhood in a way."

Though he's best known as Scobie in RTE's Pure Mule (another challenging accent!) his acting career began with Gorey Little Theatre Group, where he first began performing in a production of Our Town at the age of 12. It would have been a surprise if he had done anything else. His parents were deeply involved with amateur drama, organising, performing and directing "on the circuit".

"They met on the stage – a long time ago – in a cabaret-type night in Kilkenny Castle that Tomas MacAnna directed," says Lombard. His mother, Veronica, continues to direct, while his father, Gary Snr., runs the South Leinster Drama Festival, as well as travelling the country adjudicating.

His own swansong on the amateur circuit, was when he (appropriately enough) starred in Friel's drama of hellos and goodbyes, Philadelphia Here I Come! But by then he had "got the taste."

Having signed up for Drama Studies at TCD, he transferred to the University's now defunct acting degree, which provided something he considers essential, no matter how great the experience in Amateur drama.

"It's a great shame that it is gone. It is a hard enough profession to get started in and the degree gives you a springboard, gives you some fundamental training. Without it there will be a void there..."

His first Abbey appearance comes – happily it might seem – too late for him to enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the Abbey auditorium that generations of actors have bemoaned. Lombard has been checking out the Abbey's new auditorium configuration and deems the seating: "brilliant".

"Yes, I missed out on all the problems. Now the place is fantastic they've really changed it. Changed the whole feel of the place, it's really amazing…"

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