Court One, Christchurch

02/08/2008 - 30/08/2008

Production Details

Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning translation of Gerald Sibleyras’ Le Vent Des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars) is a sparkling gentle comedy set in France 1959. World War I veterans Henri, Phillipe and Gustave pass their time on the terrace of their military nursing home musing over their peculiar circumstances.

Henri (Grant Tilly), a romantic with a gammy leg, enjoys taking his daily walk past the young ladies of the nearby town. Phillipe (Geoffrey Heath) harbours paranoid fears about the hospital’s head nun, while Gustave (John Bach) seems to prefer the company of a stone dog to his two compatriots. When the privacy of their terrace is threatened, these three ‘heroes’ hatch a daring plan to leave – embarking on a journey both whimsical and touching.

Director Ross Gumbley says: "This play is both comic and poignant. Such a wonderfully crafted play that, as Stoppard says, is ‘not only about human mortality but the universal desire to escape the confines of ones life’."

Gumbley describes HEROES as an intensely character-driven "soufflé of a play" and his cast ideal to deliver Stoppard’s ingenious dialogue. "Having actors the calibre of Grant Tilly (returning to The Court and recipient of the 2007 Chapman Tripp Actor of the Year award for his performance in Home Land), John Bach, (a New Zealand acting icon most recently appearing in The Forge’s Year of the Rat); and Geoffrey Heath (a mainstay of The Court Theatre stage, last seen in The History Boys) simply makes directing this play all the more exciting".

HEROES has won significant critical acclaim and received the 2006 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. The Daily Times hailed it as "achingly funny, and piercingly sad", while the London Evening Standard called the comedy "a direct theatrical hit".  Don’t miss a whimsical, touching play featuring three of New Zealand’s greatest acting talents.

Venue:  The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Production Dates:  2 August – 30 August 2008
Performance times:  6pm Monday / Thursday; 7:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (no show Sundays);  2pm matinee Saturday 9 August
Tickets:  Adults $37, Senior Citizens $32, Tertiary Students $23, School Children $15, Group discount $31
Bookings:  The Court Theatre, 20 Worcester Boulevard; 963 0870 or www.courttheatre.org.nz

John Bach
Grant Tilly
Geoffrey Heath 

1hr 50 mins, incl. interval

Tepid Soup

Review by Faith Oxenbridge 16th Aug 2008

Heroes, written by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard, is clever and funny and flirts with both farce and pathos, but it isn’t great theatre. Not even this production’s superb cast could save it from being little more than a whimsical meditation on mortality.

The premise is promising: three World War I veterans – in various stages of ill health and delusion – in a French military hospital run by nuns fantasise about escaping the tyranny of the hospital terrace on which they spend their days slowly decomposing. Henri has "one-and- a-half legs", Philippe passes out every 10 minutes thanks to a piece of shrapnel in his head, and Gustave, although physically fit, is terrified of leaving the hospital grounds. [More


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Mortality confronted with unsentimental humour

Review by Lindsay Clark 03rd Aug 2008

In the original French, the title of the play, Le Vent aux Peupliers heralds the image around which it is built, namely the gentle stirring of distant poplar trees, alive, graceful survivors of the passing years. If at first this seems a strange adjunct to the daily grind of the war ‘heroes’ of the translated title, it is perhaps because we are more used to gory images of horror and notions of supreme sacrifice associated with post war stories.

With delicate irony, the old campaigners of this piece, reduced to mini skirmishes and plots, plan a final assault – a plan which will take them to the top of the distant hill, to the poplars dancing there.

What a gem of a small play this is, fresh, unsentimental and warmly humorous. The three veterans from the ‘Great War’ are the sole and jealous occupants of the rear terrace at their nursing home, watched over by an enigmatic (stone) dog. They spend their days contradicting each other and planning that last great campaign, to cross the cemetery immediately before them and climb to the boundary of their visible world. The driving quest for freedom has not left them over the decades; nor their appetite for comradeship in shared enterprises, in life itself.

Thus, the ideas underpinning the play deal lightly but significantly with mortality. How refreshing that the conversations and mini-episodes in which they are conveyed are so funny. If it is moving to see these old codgers plotting and practising, squabbling for command (and including the dog, who never contradicts and never complains, in their plans), there is also a strong element of wacky fantasy in their propositions, continual wit and irony in the dialogue and some unexpectedly physical comedy to boot.

Ross Gumbley directs with authority what is obviously a tight and well attuned team.

For Tony Geddes this set must have been a relief to design after the intricacies and demands of the recent Arsenic and Old Lace. We never stir from the terrace of the rest home, except in the constant reported vision of the three actors, looking above and beyond us to the line of poplars they have made their goal.

It is a very French scene, reflecting the changing seasons with subtle ease. The dog, alert ear cocked, is an impressive statuary beast, again an emblem of something unchanging whose silence and sameness is seen as proof of his loyalty and steadfastness.

The heroes may be reduced in worldly terms, their daily existence regulated by unseen nuns, a predictable round of non-events, but these chaps are intensely alive and interactive. Constantly reconfigured patterns of two against one keep the dialogue buoyant and the theatre is full of gentle laughter.

In a welcome return to Court, Grant Tilly plays the enthusiast of the trio, Henri. With his gammy leg and cane, face scarlet with anticipation and the earnest desire to be practical, he is, unexpectedly, the one who sees things most clearly. The performance is faultless, generously detailed and precise.

As Philippe, who suffers dizzy spells that have nothing to do with remembered combat and everything to do with the lady who wanted to be called ‘Captain’, Geoffrey Heath adds urgency to the plot. He is sure that Sister Madeleine has it in for him, that the dog can move and so on. All this is done with artful restraint. Sibleyras’ delicate balance of poignancy and  humour is in very good hands.

So to the dry cynicism of Gustave, embodied in the long frame of John Bach. As the envisaged solution to his boredom takes hold, he develops most deliciously into a ‘living crusader’, fired up by wilder and wilder schemes. His version of delusion is created with perceptive skill. 

The final image is a wonderfully telling as the trio look out at the unreachable poplars and the geese flying above them. Detail here would be a spoiler. Suffice to say it sums up the real import of the whole ‘heroic enterprise’. 


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