Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
Translated by Tom Stoppard from the French play Le Vent Des Peupliers
This little gem of a comedy is just the right play to start the new season. The cast of Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott had delighted audiences at the Wyndham’s Theatre premiere in 2005 and the following year Heroes won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
The play was written by Gérald Sibleyras as Le Vents des Peupliers. When Tom Stoppard translated it, he felt that the title of The Wind in the Poplars might cause confusion with a certain other tree species and so instead called the play Heroes, which now could be confused with the cult TV series of the same name! But there is nothing super-herolike about the three adventurers you will meet here.
Henri, Gustave and Philippe all took part in the Great War but we find them in 1959 as residents of a veterans’ home. They are bound by the monotonous minutiae of the daily routine but a plan is hatched, which takes on the scope of a major campaign - with hilarious results.
Setting the play in a time before the constraints of political correctness has enabled the author to indulge in risqué banter, which I am sure our experienced cast – Nick Betteridge, Peter Wellby and Alan Baker – will relish bringing to life.
Dudley Ward and the set-building team have composed a little bit of France for the setting and, with their technical skills, have created the fourth, canine member of the cast.
So if a risible, heartwarming evening, or matinee afternoon, is your desire, please come along to Lewes Little Theatre to see Heroes.
Nigel Sharpe Director
Acclaimed French playwright Gérald Sibleyras was born in Paris in 1961. His award winning play Le Vent des Peupliers was first staged in 2002 and was a big hit. In 2005 it was renamed Heroes when Sibleyras collaborated with Tom Stoppard who translated it for a West End run. That production won the 2006 Olivier Award for best new comedy. Describing Heroes, Stoppard said ‘one of the attractions of translating Heroes is that it’s not the kind of play I write. There are no one-liners. It’s a much more a truthful comedy than a play of dazzling wit. It’s a kind of exquisite pain’.
Sibleyras is seen as a very British writer due to his wry humour and uncomplicated story-telling. When people in France heard that Tom Stoppard was translating Heroes Sibleyras says - ‘they said see, we told you it’s a British play’. Since the London run it has been translated into many languages.
Set in a veterans home in 1959, three ex-service men while away their time sitting on a terrace, overlooking poplar trees, The Wyndham’s Theatre production starred Ken Stott, Richard Griffiths and John Hurt offers the opportunity for a masterclass in acting.
Director Nigel Sharpe chose a poignant play about older men grieving their purpose, drive and virility. The meat of the piece is in what is unsaid and in the way the three characters struggle to maintain a controlled front thereby not betraying their real feelings of vulnerability. The cliché of men bonding through doing things and of women bonding through saying things rings very true here. During the long, hot days of summer in sleepy rural France, their preoccupations are the everyday activities and attractiveness of the nurses, who of their fellow inmates has died and who might be next.
Symbolically the end of the play heralds the coming of autumn when Canadian geese fly in formation above the men in a poignant and life affirming scene. We see clearly the true sense of mourning these men feel for the comradeship and purpose of their war time experiences. Also symbolic is the permanent presence of the large statue of a canine hound. The dog becomes a fourth character on the stage with one character Phillipe - played with a lovely boyish mischief and fruitiness by Alan G. Baker, believing he can see the dog moving. As if to harness the life and agility of a proud beast the characters increasingly involve the statue in the action.
To combat their frustration and ennui the men, led by Gustave, decide to plan and execute an escape to the top of the ridge lined with poplar trees that they gaze at every day from their terrace.
Nick Betteridge convincingly maintained the outward polish and poise of a man who, once in charge, now struggles with reduced circumstances and the lack of any kind of status. There were a couple of painfully illuminating moments where the vulnerability of a nearly broken man showed through when Henri - Peter Wellby, witnesses Gustave’s intense fear of going out into the world and meeting people. Peter Wellby really captured the inner life of a man who had struggled and won the fight not to give up after being disabled by war injuries. It was touching to see his character Henri, outwardly physically damaged, supporting Gustave whose injuries were more psychological rather than visually apparent.
In the French tradition much of the motor of the play is absurdist with some farcical elements, but in Tom Stoppard’s translation it is played out with wry English humour. However, the actors and the audience relished the moments of earthy banter when the three men, led by the irrepressible Phillipe, shared laddish observations on women in a clumsy attempt to feel they still had a functioning place in the society.
Dudley Ward’s and Nigel Sharpe’s set design and clever use of space served the play well. Special mention goes to Cordelia Haynes, Don Plimmer and Mervyn Huggett for giving life to the fourth - canine, member of the cast.