Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

herioes at Hall Green

Steven Brear as Phillippe, Richard Woodward as Gustave and Jon Richardson as Henri. Pictures: Roy Palmer


Hall Green Little Theatre


This is one of my favourite plays and the problem with stage favourites is that they are a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to reviews.

You already know the play well, so it means a good production is a delight to watch, you know what is coming and enjoy the moments as they arrive, while a bad production merely jars and annoys.

This production? A delight from start to finish, a three hander that gently purrs along with characters oh so different yet so dependent upon each other.

Translated by Tom Stoppard from Gérald Sibleyras’s Parisienne play of 2002, Le vent des peupliers, the title translates as The Wind in the Poplars, which is much more relevant than Heroes, which sounds like an all action war drama, but it was thought that the correct title might be confused with The Wind in the Willows.

An unlikely scenario, and as anyone who has watched Pointless will have worked out, those most likely to confuse the two would not have known of The Wind in the Willows in the first place, so the problem would never have arisen.

Still, no matter, Heroes is what it is called. It is set in 1959 in one of many French homes-come-hospitals for veterans with our three heroes, survivors of the First World War, having commandeered a small terrace, complete with the stone statue of a dog, as their command post. They are the only occupants and it has become the centre of their world, the place they spend each day, bickering, talking, plotting, planning . . . living out their days.

They pass the time discussing their fellow veterans, the staff of mainly nuns led by Sister Madelaine, defending the terrace from invaders when a lower terrace is refurbished, and planning their escape, eventually to Indo-China; but, as a dry run, apart from the two rivers, they decide first on an expedition to the poplars high on the hill beyond the cemetery which they can see from their terrace. It is a journey we know, and in their hearts, they know, will never take place.

Jon Richardson gives us Henri, the elder statesman of the trio with his 25 year’s residency in the home. He is slightly pompous, rather set in his ways, but above all a realist, who can see the wild schemes and ideas of his companions as little more than the fantasy and make believe they are, which is just as well, really, as his gammy leg would see him struggle on a trip up the hill, let alone to the Mekong delta.

Little surprises him these days . . . except he is delighted to have just discovered,  as a result of extending his daily constitutional beyond the cemetery - after his quarter of a century in the home - that there is a school for young girls in the nearby village and a pretty young teacher in charge of their daily walk, an encounter which has now become part of his own daily routine - and one of the daily topics for discussion. Her description and Henri’s approach to her, however unlikely, being other subjects.


Our intrepid trio watch the wild geese flying above the poplars, migrating to their winter breeding grounds, seeing an escape, a freedom, beyond them and their closed world  

Then there is Phillippe, played manfully by Steven Brear. Phillippe has been 10 years in the home and is paranoid, with an obsession about birthdays being the key to survival, all allied to a fear that Sister Madelaine is out to kill him. Phillippe carries his own souvenir from the war, shrapnel in his head, which results in him passing out on a regular basis and awaking with a call to arms- which we are to discover later is far from what it seems. It also results in him believing he sees the stone dog move and the terrace pitch like the deck of a ship. Phillippe is only just within touching distance of reality.

Brear has had to pile on a few years to catch up with Phillippe’s pensioner status, never the easiest without extensive make up, and he manages to portray him as a man of an indeterminate age which suffices when aided by his northern tones, cleverly directing attention away from his age to his accent.

Finally, there is Gustave, the urbane, man-about-the-world newcomer, with a mere six months in the home. It is a lovely performance from Richard Woodward. This is a man who gives the impression of being at home in the officer class, claiming to be a scion of the aristocracy, although he doesn’t talk about it. He has the air of a man who expects, indeed, as far as he is concerned, is, always in charge, commanding those around him; confident, assured and outwardly in control.

He is the man who suggests the escape to Indo-China, claiming vast experience of the area, a man of the world  - even if his world  now no longer extends beyond the terrace. He is afraid to go out, afraid to meet people, afraid to do anything alone - confidence takes flight at the first hint of leaving the sanctuary of the home.

Holding court on the terrace he is fine, a man of action, with hundreds of women in his past and he blithely, with a sort of mock modesty, claims to have been in the Second World War, although, as his involvement consisted merely of living in Paris during the occupation, it could hardly count as the military campaign Gustave seems to imply.

He is happy organising their escape, but to what? It is an outside world they hardly know, a world the war has left them unable to face. Henry, with his gammy leg, has taken 25 years to extend his walk to the village and discover the school.

Phillippe suffers from paranoia, hallucinations and blackouts, while Gustave is afraid to go out alone, practising nodding to people he is afraid to meet; all casualties of a war that ended 41 years ago.  

It is a beautifully written piece, at times comic, sometimes a little sad, and even has a nod here and there to the theatre of the absurd as we follow the three old soldiers for a few weeks in late summer and into autumn, perhaps an analogy of their lives.

There are some wonderful comedy moments such as when the trio start to rope themselves together with a hose for the walk up the hill, or Phillippe’s theory on birthdays, or their discussion about whether it was more important to make a woman laugh or climax, which in their state is an academic point at best, especially for Phillippe, if the journal he has started is to be believed.

A lovely set in the studio gives us the terrace and the all-important dog while director Christine Bland cleverly has a nurse as the stage hand fussing around the terrace, plumping up cushions and tidying up as scenes change, even becoming the spirit of autumn scattering leaves as the days grow shorter.

Heroes is a gentle comedy which, like the trio of old soldiers, never really goes anywhere but it is still a pleasure to watch. It is a sort of Last of the Summer Wine for people with an O level, a beautifully acted and directed theatrical delight. To 17-11-18.

Roger Clarke


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate