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

Last of the summer vin

heroes cast

Henri (Paul Bellamy), left, Gustave (Martin Bourne) and Philippe (Peter Baio), heroes all


Swan Theatre Studio, Worcester


IF you were to blend Last of the Summer Wine with Three Men in a Boat, complete with dog Montmorency of course, then season with a little  Beckett here and there, then you would perhaps get a flavour of Heroes.

It is a sort of French Odd Couple, except it is a trio, or a quartet if you count the dog; witty, acerbic, gentle, poignant and gloriously funny.

The play is set in 1959 on the terrace of an old soldiers’ home somewhere in rural France – the back terrace mind, not the front one which is crowded with mad men – a home run by nuns under Sister Madeleine.

In this world of old soldiers we find three veterans of the Great War who spend their last days reminiscing, joking, irritating each other, and planning adventures that will never happen but will pass the time.

There are the conspiracies about the mysterious Sister Madeleine and the death sentence of birthdays, the funerals as old soldiers join the regiments in the skies, and the world beyond the walls, all seen through the eyes of our three old soldiers.

There is Gustave, (Martin Bourne) dapper in three piece suit and trilby, an aristocrat, so he tells us, with withering put downs, and a fear of going outside the walls of the home. He is a boastful bully of a man, although we never quite get to know what he is so boastful about.

Then there is Henri, (Paul Bellamy) with a gammy leg, a born enthusiast to the Gustave and Pilippeextent that one day he will even be an enthusiastic corpse according to Gustave. He takes great delight in walking to the village, despite his lameness, so he can see the young schoolmistress with who he has a, literally, nodding relationship. After 25 years in the home he is now almost a part of the terrace while Gustave, only there six months, is still finding his way.

There is a nice touch as Henri sweeps the fallen leaves from what after a quarter of a century has become his terrace. The house-proud resident.

Gustave and Philippe practise a river crossing

Between old stager and newcomer is Philippe, (Peter Baio) a ten year veteran, who has a chunk of shrapnel floating around his head which causes him to pass out on a regular basis, awaking loudly amid some sexual fantasy with a dressmaker – sexual fantasies being somewhat of a hobby with Philippe.

He sits firmly on the fence in all matters that need anything approaching a decision and is happiest bitching about Sister Madeleine.

It is all leading up to the great adventure, a trip to Indochina . . . or an expedition to the poplars that can be seen just past the cemetery from the terrace?

Heroes was translated, and adapted by Tom Stoppard from the original Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars) by Parisian playwright and actor Gerald Sibleyras, who was born, incidentally, two years after his play is set

The English title came about as it was feared the direct translation would leave audiences confused with The Wind in the Willows.

Director Keith Thompson has kept to the spirit of studio productions with a minimalist set of a few terrace chairs, a table and a dog, which is all it needs: this is a play about Stoppard’s wonderful words and wit, the little asides, the unexpected grenades, the quick retorts which help keep a play where, in truth, nothing much happens, moving along at a cracking pace.

The cast are excellent, feeding off each other, adding knowing looks and exasperated glances to spot-on timing in a splendid production. But, and isn’t there always a but, sadly it is hard to generate any real empathy for the characters, which is no fault of cast or director I hasten to add, but of the play itself.

The trio never develop much beyond the two dimensional simply because the script does not allow it; we know very little more about them as people at the end than we discovered in the first five minutes of the opening scene. We know Gustave was married and Henri wasn’t, Philippe has a sister whose husband is a moron and that is about it.

What they did in the war, what they did since, where they are from, who they really are is as big a mystery at the end as it was at the start. What you are left with though is still a pleasure to watch, a very funny, gentle comedy where time flies by to that most precious of theatrical commodities, an accompanying chorus of constant laughter.

To 23-08-14

Roger Clarke


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