Old comrades still fighting

Heroes, by Gerald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard, Gallery Players, Sir John Mills Theatre, until Saturday October 29

It is no surprise to find the Gallery Players presenting Heroes, written by Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard, as the company specialises in producing rarely performed works. The play is set in August 1959 at a home for retired soldiers in a French convent, somewhere in France. The three characters are all veterans of the French army of the First World War who spend most of their lives on ‘their’ terrace, discussing Sister Madelaine (to her detriment), and planning their escape from old age and senility. The plan, of course, is doomed, and invites comparison with Waiting for Godot.

Henri (Phil Cory) has a gammy leg but is a realist and pours cold water on most of the campaign plans, while Gustave (Peter Phillips) has agoraphobia, something of a drawback in the outside world. Philippe (George Holmes) has a piece of shrapnel lodged in his skull which causes blackouts. He is convinced that Sister Madelaine, who organises the birthday parties, eliminates those with duplicate birth dates. Thus, when a new man arrives with the same birthday, Philippe is certain he is to be eliminated, just as he is sure that the heavy stone dog that stands on the terrace moves. Finally, all three discover freedom is mental, not physical.

Whether or not Stoppard is here a ‘spirited’ translator, rather than a faithful one, is hard to spot but director Steve Wooldridge brings out the humour as the three veterans (four counting the dog!) play out the drama against Dave Borthwick’s charming set design. The characters retain the French flavour of male camaraderie, a tribute to all three actors. Each and every word was audible, a pleasure in itself, and the characters became real from the off. The Gallery Players are to be congratulated on, once again, bringing interesting and challenging drama to the Ipswich stage.

Carol Twinch

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