The Cavalcaders

The Cavalcaders (Tricycle Theatre, London)

Some plays win you over with wit, some by stealth. Wexford’s Billy Roche does it by atmosphere. At the end of this reprise of his 1993 `homage’ to small-town living, you realise he has, once again, woven a little tapestry of magic. A whole way of being, probably gone for ever, has been caught but in so doing, he has revealed certain verities that never die.

The Cavalcaders may partly be the nostalgic riff of a man its author admits never expected to grow old and is not without its winsome side. Roche, who also stars as one of a barber-shop four singing golden oldies and his own compositions, too, is no great crooner.

Nor does he have the stinging originality of a Martin McDonagh for all the play’s seeming unconventional flashback structure and musical interludes. Roche’s golden gift, though, is the true glow of conjuration and human empathy.

As with his much admired Wexford Trilogy, Cavalcaders summons up an elegiac bitter-sweet mood of love, guilt and recrimination focussed around a rickety old shoe-repair corner-shop (nicely imagined by Liz Ascroft) whose fustiness disguises a seething cauldron of emotions.

A play of teeming ghosts, at its centre is the troubled Terry (played with mesmerising taciturn grandeur by Liam Cunningham) whose passionate affair with Dawn Bradfield’s dark beauty, Nuala (wonderfully rendered) is suffused with an erotic anger and cruelty wholly defined by betrayal (Terry’s best friend ran off with his wife).

Love, Roche shows in Robin Lefevre’s discreetly effective production, leaves lethal stains (Nuala commits suicide after Terry rejects her) and betrayal is common (it happens again within the group).

But optimist that he is, Roche’s second cuckold is shown surviving, inheriting the shop and bursting with new plans for its future. Never underestimate the Roche.

First published in The Herald (Glasgow) 2002