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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