The Cavalcaders at the Abbey
The Abbey Theatre is, as ever, consistent in its unwavering approach to performance scheduling. It tends to dominate the early part of the calendar year with an assortment of adventurous playwriting and sumptuous visual productions. Come the summer months and it inevitably grows more conservative, regularly portraying works from the cavernous back catalogue of literary masters. The summer fades and autumn draws forth the interesting a new once again – culminating in the fringe and theatre festivals were their unorthodox variety of the fresh and the bold. It is a somewhat cyclical affair and regularly incorporates great writing with the sometimes more mundane, however, it is always diverse and fully displays the Abbey's infamous genius for theatre production.
In this appointed period of the year we see the Abbey tackle the Irish talent of Billy Roche, with a production of his musically themed comic drama, The Cavalcaders. Roche is that particular type of Irish writer who works to explore the small-town country societal condition through the prism of the ‘big issue'. Roche is a visceral master of the mixture of rapid fire witty joking and the somewhat dark mood-swinging staging of serious dramatic events. The evident brilliance of The Cavalcaders as a literary piece is to incorporate these opposing mixtures into a standard barber-shop styled musical affair where the comic jocularity and sudden somber drama is evenly divided by the melodious interlude. It makes for a blistering series of exchanges between the several characters and highlights the skill set of Roche's varied writing and the showy power of an Abbey theatre production.
As ever the Abbey has succeeded in producing a professional effort. The setting is achieved with aplomb; a singular construct, it displays the inside of a small shoe store where the entire story ark is completed. To the right is a faded brown piano which initiates the musical overtones, the left a sweeping desk and the shops storage area with the rear the shops entrance and above it a soaring series of construction cranes which captures the modern development of our Celtic Tiger Ireland. Robin Lefevre directs the action through these sparse confines with a significant tempo. Movement is swift and talkative which explores the tone of the play script well, introducing and exiting the characters at a steady clip; the audience is fed the play's diverse nature with very little time to adjust to the shifting arrangement. It makes for an entertaining series of surprises and highlights with grace the musical segments.
The acting is solid on the most part and outstanding in certain dimensions. John Kavanagh explores his performance as the anecdotal Josie with a rich sense of playfulness, his brash visual contortions contain some of the plays finest comedic moments and he performs a show stopping solo rendition of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. The remaining cast develop their respective roles well with standouts shining through in Garret Lombard as the cheeky Rory and Simone Kirby as the emotionally unstable Nuala. With the plays erratic construction there is a focus on the disparate elements of the production, where the comedic points tend to register immediately with the audience, the sudden angry drama appears included in the play primarily to shock. It is done so well at times that it begins to create a strain between the opposing narrative dynamics; and with the power of the dramatic performances, the use of the comic act (and the musical balance between) become ever more surreal on the stage. The ‘big issue' theme subsequently becomes lost in this structural conflagration.
It is in many ways this fissure in the structure that undermines the overall effect. Where Roche has designed a series of excellent independent parts, their grouping together, which at first is dynamic, begins to grow unwieldy when it enters its stride. The submerging of the major theme of the work dissolves its fundamental point and towards the end the dramatic segments (on the whole the finest parts of the play) are derailed somewhat by the increased attempts to make humour a component of the darkly depressed dialogue. Though this is a definite flaw, there is much to enjoy in this production and the acting and staging are at the very top of the theatric standards. Roche is an undeniably gifted playwright and at times in The Cavalcaders he hits performance gold, especially the somber conflicts between Terry and Nuala, and if not for its structural inadequacies the play would be not too far off an outstanding achievement. Of course, amidst the work being produced in Irish theatres at the moment that would be no mean feat.