Wivelsfield Little Theatre production of Heroes - review

Photograph: A scene from Wivelsfield Little Theatres Heroes by Laurence Leng
Photograph: A scene from Wivelsfield Little Theatres Heroes by Laurence Leng

REVIEW BY Bill Colbourne

Heroes by Gerald Sibleyras, translated and adapted by Tom Stoppard.

It is August/September 1959 and we are on the terrace of a home for first world war veterans, somewhere in France. This terrace is the domain of three elderly men, who jealously guard it from interlopers. They meet there every day and discuss their fellow inmates, the nuns who look after them, and to reminisce about their earlier lives.

Gustave (Philip Robinson) is their leader - an assertive and critical ex-officer who has little respect for his companions, and is terrified of meeting strangers. He is consequently trapped, as indeed they all are.

Henri (Douglas Wragg) was wounded in the leg, so is none too mobile, though he does go out and raise his hat to ladies. Alan Carter’s Philippe loses consciousness at frequent intervals due to shrapnel in his brain, and is convinced that he will be killed if a new arrival is found to share his birth date. Together they make a contrasting but equally hapless trio.

The restless Gustave proposes that they escape and go to Indo-China, an area he professes to know well. This suggestion is not treated seriously but they eventually settle on an expedition to a distant hill on which grows a line of poplar trees. Scaling the hill will be a problem, so they decide they must be roped together. This is practised with a hosepipe, which proves more difficult than expected and provides a very amusing interlude.

A fourth inhabitant of the terrace is a large stone dog, which Gustave believes has a life of its own, and insists on taking with them. This absurd idea ensures that the escape is abandoned. Heroes was originally called The Wind in the Poplars, which would be a better title for this whimsical, gentle comedy. Wivelsfield Little Theatre’s successful and enjoyable production owes much to the acting skills of the three protagonists, but credit is also due to Alan Carter, Liz Burton and Christine Elwell-Sutton for directing, and to David Gibbs for creating the dog, which does indeed show signs of life at the end.