The Cavalcaders wrestle with love, life and showtunes
A VENUE as intimate as the Mick Lally Theatre lends itself well to a play as immersive-feeling as Billy Roche’s The Cavalcaders. Set in the confines of a shoemaker’s shop, which also serves as the dreamscape for the memories of retiring shoemaker Terry (Garrett Lombard), who is passing on the reigns to enthusiastic, perennially chirpy young protégé Rory (Naoise Crowley), The Cavalcaders is a story of love, loss and the healing power of music.
A flickering bulb over the countertop at the centre of the stage (that provides an anchoring effect for the activity that ranges from workplace banter to lovers’ tiffs to a New Year’s Eve conga line) is the catalyst for Rory to pop out for a new one, leaving Terry alone to reminisce about the good – and not so good – old days.
Enter the dream team, the old gang, the Cavalcaders; shoemakers by day, barber-shop quartet by night. Josie (Sean Kearns) is the easy-going bachelor of the group who grew up and shares, shall we say, formative experiences with Terry. Ted (Tiernan Messit-Greene) is Rory’s best mate and the resident pianist, who co-writes a few numbers with Terry when a rival act borrows their repertoire.
Rory and Terry complete the quartet, and their musical stylings are the highlight of the play which, while full of wit and whimsey in many ways feels fractured and flimsy in others. The two female characters that round out the cast are there purely as romantic interests for Terry, an oftentimes charming ladies’ man, yes, but who is also taciturn and grumpy and deeply self-absorbed.
Aaron Monaghan directs this revived production of The Cavalcaders with flair and confidence, and the production, particularly the set and lighting design by Ciaran Bagnall, is suitably effective. The performances by the actors are predictably first-rate, principally Garrett Lombard who brings pathos and restrained control to the role of the troubled Terry.
Amelia Crowley gamely makes the most of her part as the lovestruck Breda, who has been waiting her whole life for Terry to make up his mind and settle down with her. She (improbably) concedes to the latest younger model who has won Terry’s affections, shop assistant Nuala. Played with an appealing naivity by Éilish McLaughlin, Nuala is probably the most complex character in the play, a sensitive, besotted woman barely out of her teens who writes poetry and tends to put all her eggs in one basket.
The musical numbers (facilitated by musical director Morgan Cooke) with four-part harmony are really wonderfully done, and one of the best scenes is the poignant and heartrending performance of one of the original songs by Josie, who is about to leave for a hospital appointment that is definitely more serious than the jokester is willing to admit. Breda’s nervous, attempted stoicism certainly reflects the reaction of the audience, who in my viewing of the play remained in reflective silence for the beat the direction allowed.
The second act is somewhat weaker than the slightly more conventionally structured first, as Terry’s memories escalate and some of his guilt catches up with him. There is a confusion to the recollections as they pour in and an increasingly wild, almost melodramatic tone that sees old trespasses unsurfaced and newer betrayals reflect them.
While, like Terry, The Cavalcaders has its flaws, it is still a rousing theatrical experience from the best in the business. The concept of history constantly repeating itself despite what the actions and reactions may be is a central theme, as is the complicated nature of relationships, both romantic and platonic.
What ties the binds is the music and even when a guy steals a girl or a rival steals a song, the show must go on.
- First published in The Tuam Herald on June 01, 2022.