The Cavalcaders

Billy Roche
Tricycle, Kilburn
(2002)

Like so many good Irish playwrights of the last couple of generations, Billy Roche specialises in plays about small-town Ireland and in his case, particularly Wexford. Indeed, the last production of his plays at the Tricycle Theatre was the excellent Wexford Trilogy.

The Cavalcaders is a play about how history will always repeat itself. The plotting is intricate and sometimes, as a result, becomes a little confused. It can also verge on soap opera with couplings and dramatic deaths off stage becoming more and more common as the play develops.

What Roche is really good at is depicting small-town life in his rural Ireland. A very sensitive performance by Liam Cunningham as Terry acts as the pivot around which the whole play is based. Indeed, it may well be the action of the play is his remembrance of times past. The play is set in the current time but mainly comprises flashbacks to a period both happier and sadder a few years before or as Roche puts it, the “innocent old days”.

Terry is the man who takes on several mantles from his Uncle Eamonn and subsequently passes them on to young Rory (Andrew Scott) who is simultaneously gauche, enthusiastic and seemingly irrepressible.

Leading the barbershop quartet, The Cavalcaders, seems to involve being cuckolded by your best friend, running a rather grotty shoe repair shop and even then your romantic life follows a set pattern. Cunningham is particularly good in the role of a man who effectively loses his wife at the altar to his best man and best friend. Not very surprisingly, he is absolutely devastated and doesn't know where to turn. He tries to comfort himself with an affair with the young, unstable Nuala (Dawn Bradfield) but he just can't forget the wife that he still loves.

As well as these characters, the quartet also contains the ever cheerful but (as we know from the start) doomed Josie. In the current production, he is played by Billy Roche himself under the direction of Robin Lefevre. The author clearly has great fun in playing this role and overseeing the revival of this ten-year-old play. He even gets to sing the solos including possibly the best moments of the evening. These are when he leads on the tragic Sayonara Street, then sings Smoke Gets In Your Eyes under disco lights. These songs combine the possibilities of love and death that the play seeks to explore.

While this play lacks some of the bite of Roche's Trilogy, it is still well worth seeing for the pleasure of following the ways in which he works with time, running two different time lines for much of the play, developing into four or five at one highly pressured moment. It is also a reminder of what life can be like in small towns where everyone knows everyone else's business. If you like the Irish tradition exemplified by J M Synge, Tom Murphy or, Conor McPherson, then you'll enjoy this night at the Tricycle.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher