Writer: Collective piece
Director: Anna Simpson
The story of Albert Cashier is a fascinating one; beginning life in famine-ridden County Louth as Jennie Hodgers, she moved to the United States and assumed a male identity, going under the name Albert D.J. Cashier. Cashier enlisted in the Union army to fight in the Civil War, and then lived a quiet life until the early 20th century, when his entitlement to a pension caused a national scandal. Eventually, supported by former comrades, the judge ruled in his favour.
Quintessence Theatre’s telling of Cashier’s life was touching, amusing, and exciting, although this combination created a jarring atonality at times. The sombre was mixed with the slapstick one too many times, in a way that didn’t do justice to the material – the moments of tragedy were strong enough to stand by themselves, they didn’t need balancing out with excessive levity.
Ceara Cearney plays Albert, with the rest of the actors taking on numerous roles. Each had impactful moments, but understandably, due to the range required, there were segments that fell flat. The over-excited German psychiatrist, played with the nuance of a character from Blackadder Goes Forth, was one such moment. While this was a fun moment, and elicited a laugh from the audience, it felt more like the expression of insecurity, that a laugh had to be wrenched out of such a situation. This mugging for the crowd was another repeated pattern; every older person spoke through their dentures, and the moment of Albert’s “reveal” was dampened by characters marching in an absurd, deliberate fashion.
However, this is to focus excessively on the negative – armed with only a pole and a box, the actors create multiple worlds onstage, and the choreography, lighting, and set design each contribute strongly to an affecting, ambitious theatrical experience. From the opening sequence, when the actors emerge from puffy white bags, movement and physicality are intrinsic aspects of this piece, and each performer show considerable skill in this area. With a bit more finessing, and a judicious edit, this would have been a sleeker production, but the evident talent on show suggests there is far more to come from everyone involved.
Runs Until 11th November 2023.