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Cavalcaders

By • West End
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The Cavalcaders - originally performed at Dublin's Abbey Theatre - brings small town Ireland yet again to the centre of the Tricycle stage. Through Robin Lefevre's truthful direction and Liz Ascroft's imaginative set, we enter the rugged trade of a Wexford cobbler's shop where a quartet of characters play out their lives, by day repairing shoes, by night performing as The Cavalcaders of the title. It's the music group's hauntingly lyrical songs, along with one outstanding love scene, which give Billy Roche's play it's authority.

The band comprises the handsome but haunted Terry (Liam Cunningham), shop owner and band manager; Rory (Andrew Scott), his affable if buffoonish assistant; Ted (David Ganly), the podgy piano player; and foxily rueful Josie (played by Roche himself). These men share some tangled love interests with lush young Nuala (Dawn Bradfield) and more mature Breda (Ingrid Craigie).

Roche's dramatic eye is mainly trained on Terry, who's still burning a candle for the wife his best friend stole from him years. It's a measure of Cunningham's achievement that Terry's bitter playboy charm comes across as seductive as his brutality is repellent - women are drawn to him but are inevitably stung by his failure to commitment. One weakness here, however, is that it's never quite clear why Terry hasn't been able to move on after his wife's betrayal.

The script suffers slightly too in the first act because of our familiarity now with modern Irish drama. The trademark banter combined with the minutiae of everyday village life was perhaps more arresting to British audiences eight years ago.

It's not until the second act, which revolves around a series of imaginatively staged flashbacks, that our sympathies are fully engaged. Here's where the tale of mid-life crisis and recovery emerges. Once again, there's a niggle with Terry's motivation - his emotional leap from confirmed bachelor to sensible hubby is not fully convincing. The death of Josie and the demise of the band seem unlikely catalysts for so sentimental a resolution.

Still, this revival certainly warrants a trip to the Tricycle, if only to witness the electrifying final love scene between Terry in his first encounter with Nuala. The desperation, appetite and playfulness of a woman in love are beautifully evoked by Bradfield as Nuala, but also by Roche's writing, which, at this point, catapults us from terra firma to aching uncertainty. There aren't many loves scenes which go so far in their revelation of intimacy.

- by Charlotte Birkett


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