Watermill - Heroes
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Watermill - Heroes

11th February to 20th March 2010.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Hooray for heroes

Three French comrades deliver a barrage of laughs at The Watermill

Heroes, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Saturday, March 20

Treat yourself. Get a ticket for Heroes and discover how enjoyable a good comedy can be. Translated by Tom Stoppard from Gerald Sibleyras' Le Vent des Peupliers and directed by Paul Hart, the action takes place in France, in a home for the flotsam of war and concerns three old soldiers, Henri, Philippe and Gustave. Women make friends, men have comrades. These three come from different backgrounds; Henri limps, Philippe has a collapsing problem caused by shrapnel and Gustave, seemingly the fittest of the three men, is nothing of the kind. Between them a comradeship reluctantly builds and their sharp, quick, lively dialogue is nothing short of brilliantly funny.

Describing her as "that Madeleine bitch", Philippe believes that the nun in charge of the home hands out drugs to kill off those who have the same birthdays, so that there can be as many celebrations as possible.

Gustave, the self-styled aristocrat, persuades the other two that their best course is to run away and having rejected Indo-China and a picnic down the road as destinations, they decide to make for the poplars waving on the far hill.

Preparations are well in hand when Gustave announces they must take with them the large stone statue of a dog which stands on their terrace and which Philippe declares he has seen moving. And so the escape plan fails and life potters on.

Reminiscent of the wonderful trio in BBC TV's New Tricks, here are three superb performances from Christopher Ettridge as Philippe the worrier, David Fielder as Henri the enthusiast and Michael Hadley as Gustave, the domineering upper-cruster who never trusts a man who doesn't like dogs.

There are piercingly poignant moments and the background of waving marram grass, broken posts and a single strand of barbed wire above the terrace wall is a reminder of the French theatres of war. This intensifies whenever the sky darkens and the tweeting of birds changes to a more raucous cawing.

However, an underlying poignancy only serves to point up the great joyousness of this concise, excellent play during which the dog gazes out impassively at the audience as the three comrades wrangle on and the audience laugh. Does he move? Surely not...

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Henri, Philippe and Gustave are first-world-war veterans, scarred mentally and physically, living in a care home in 1959. Henri has been a resident for 25 years, Philippe for 10; Gustave is the newcomer of six months, but a fellowship has developed between the three of them (and a stone statue of a dog).

When their routine is threatened, Gustave plans a break for freedom – a crazy plan, but it gives them the hope of escaping from their institutionalised life. Their target that they finally agree on: a line of poplars on a hill in the distance.

Gérald Sibleyras’ Heroes, translated by Tom Stoppard, is a gentle comedy, a Last of the Summer Wine with added poignancy.

The characters and their problems are complex. Aristocratic Gustave (Michael Hadley) is unharmed physically but has a terror of meeting new people. Philippe (Christopher Ettridge) has a shrapnel wound in his head that causes him to pass out frequently but briefly. Henri (David Fielder) has a leg wound. But the three of them united have the strength they lack individually, and when they tie themselves together with a fire hose to practise for their escape, this symbolises the bond between them. All this gives the three actors scope to develop the empathy between them (as well as the irritations) and they do this very well.

There are some intriguing strands to the story with its unseen characters: Sister Madeleine who rules the care home with a rod of iron; Philippe’s sister, whose letters are read and replied to on his behalf by Gustave; the various women they fantasise about. At the end of this very funny and moving tale, as a flock of geese flies over the distant poplars, the three (and the dog) are left with hope – if not of a changed life, then of a strengthened fellowship.

PAUL SHAVE

There are reviews at The Public Reviews ("a very heartwarming night for the audience"), WhatsOnStage ("great delicacy and insight... what does come over in Paul Hart’s nicely judged production is the joshing camaraderie of the men and the witty sardonic humour of some of their exchanges"), The Stage ("delightful... full of delicious anecdotes, gentle humour and brilliant one-liners").