‘Happy’ Heroes tale at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre is pulled off by terrific trio

HEROES’, currently being performed at the Crescent Theatre until tomorrow, started life in 2003 as piece of darkish French Theatre by Gerald Sibleyras.

His original title ‘La Vent des Peupliers’ literally means ‘The Wind in The Poplars’.

I think it was a wise move by Tom Stoppard in his translated version to rename it ‘Heroes’ – less with a slip of the tongue we could be expecting to meet those wild-wooders from ‘Wind in the Willows’.

Instead of Badger, Ratty and Mole we have Henri, Gustave and Philippe – in both cases the plays concern a trio of adorable chums but there we’ll leave the comparison.

Our three heroes are veterans of the Great War where they endured unimaginable horrors. Whatever happened to them in the four decades since the end of that abomination is unclear and for our purposes, irrelevant; for when we meet them it is 1959 and they are in a French Military retirement home run by nuns.

There, on a terrace they have claimed as their own, they reflect on life, death, sex and the burnt out embers of what remains of their ambition.

They are united in fear and loathing of one particular nun, though we never see any evidence of the alleged persecution; rather they are left alone to reminisce and dream.

Dreams turn to plots, which culminate in an escape plan devised by Gustave, their self-elected leader.

The mission is to reach the distant hilltop surrounded by polar trees they can see through binoculars from the terrace.

If all this sounds a bit grim then fear not as Stoppard has lost much of the darkness in translation. It has in fact gained by offering up compassion through comedy.

Claire Armstrong Mills has directed thoughtfully and skilfully applying a fine brush to the task rather than a trowel.

Thankfully there are no ‘custard pie’ moments – we are offered chuckle not guffaw material and the evening is all the better for it.

Inevitably the trio will be compared to the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ but to me, these old soldiers offer far more substance than that.

John Whittell as the gammy-legged ‘Henri’, Dave Hill as agoraphobic ‘Gustave’ and Brian Wilson as the gentle ‘Philippe’ who suffers periodic fainting due to a piece of shrapnel that has lodged itself into his brain, make a joyously talented threesome.

Never do they act at us, but rather allow us to eavesdrop on their world through an almost ‘reality show’ approach.

Any fourth wall acting barriers are down and we believe. The final tableau of them flapping their arms majestically like migrating geese on the wind is beautiful.

Alice Abrahall makes the most of playing a silent Nun and the stone dog on the terrace does its best to steal the show.

Keith Harris’ setting is both pleasing on the eye and practical for the mature company – a consideration worth praising.

Catch it till the May 19 – you’ll come away happy.

Heroes is on at the Ron Barber Studio at the Crescent Theatre until tomorrow.

Tickets are £12 (£11 concessions).

Call 0121 643 5858 or visit https://www.crescent-theatre.co.uk/theatre-event/?EventID=95532 for more information or tickets.

Review by Euan Rose. 

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