Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

25/08/2012 - 15/09/2012

Production Details

2006 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy  


Heroes is Tom Stoppard’s award-winning adaptation of Gérald Sibleyras’ enchanting and delightfully whimsical comedy Le Vent des Peupliers, that took Paris by storm.  

Set in central France in 1959, this is the story of three cantankerous World War I veterans who are residents of a French Military Rest home. 

Young and mischievous at heart and still with an eye for the ladies, Gustave, Philippe and Henri meet every morning on their quiet terrace, spending their days looking over to the poplars trees on the horizon beyond and dreaming of escape. Will today be the day they finally make it to Indochina – or perhaps only as far as the top of the hill? 

STARRING: Peter Hayden, Geoffrey Heath and Simon O’Connor

These three veteran actors come together for the first time in Tom Stoppard’s translation that has been described as “at once funny and poignant, clever and whimsical.”

Director Lara Macgregor says “It is hard not to fall in love with this story, with these three forgotten gents that once served their country through one of the harshest wars. Tom Stoppard is such a clever wordsmith. He has made this play incredibly accessible to an English speaking audience.”

A prolific playwright, Stoppard is known for writing serious comedies. He is also known for his many play adaptations. Heroes premiered in 2005 at London’s Wyndham Theatre and continues Stoppard’s trademark style with a gentle observation of old age, memory and future hope told rather comically through the story of three aging veterans.

“Stoppard’s brilliant translation makes heroes a must – this kind of quality never gets old.” The Times

“Laughter galore plus a tear or two in 90 minutes of sheer class.” Sun

“Theatrical hit, a boulevard comedy bull’s-eye… achieves a seductive fusion of the comic, sad and absurd.” The Evening Standard 

Interview with Tom Stoppard and Gérald Sibleyras

Written by Gérald Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard
Production Dates:  25 August – 15 September
Venue:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin 9016
Performances:  Tuesday, 6pm / Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm / Sunday, 4pm
(no show Monday)
Tickets:  Gala (first 5 shows) $32, Adults $40, Senior Citizens $32, Members $30,
Tertiary Students $20, High School Students $15, Group discount (10 +) $32
Bookings:  Fortune Theatre, 231 Stuart Street, Dunedin; (03) 477 8323  


Saucy Readings / Thursday 16 August meet at 12.15pm in the Dunedin Public Library. Reading will commence at 12.30pm followed by afternoon tea. This is a FREE event.

Opening Night / Saturday 25 August, 7.30pm

Member’s Briefing / Sunday 26 August join Fortune Theatre Artistic Director Lara Macgregor for a lively informal chat about the making of Heroes.

Forum / Tuesday 28 August Q & A session with the cast and crew post 6pm show. This is a FREE event.

Fortune Sociable Club / Wednesday 29 August meet in the bar at 6.30pm and meet like-minded individuals and get connected.

Father’s Day / 2 September Spoil Dad by taking him to dinner with one of Fortune Theatre’s Great Night Out Partners then attend Heroes. Contact Larissa Dyke in Marketing for more information. 

Audio Described Performance / Sunday 9 September an audio described performance offered in collaboration with Experience Access for visually impaired patrons and friends. Audio Described Touch Tour at 2.30pm before 4pm matinee. Bookings essential.

Signed Performance / Tuesday 11 September a special 6pm signed performance for hearing impaired patrons. 

Cast:  Peter Hayden, Geoffrey Heath and Simon O’Connor 

Set Designer Matt Best
Costume Designer Maryanne Wright-Smyth
Lighting Designer Peter King
Sound Designer Lindsay Gordon   

A joyous celebration of life mixing pathos and gallantry

Review by Terry MacTavish 29th Aug 2012

It’s always been a poignant image: the old soldier, “memory fading with the medal ribbons that he wears… one more forgotten hero and a world that doesn’t care”. But in this impeccable Fortune production we have not one but three heroes, and therein lies the joyful difference – they care about one another.

Trapped in the Veterans’ Hospital in 1959 by their various war injuries, ruthlessly ruled by diminutive nuns, the old WW1 soldiers may find life monotonous, but with each other for company it’s neither lonely nor tragic. 

The gentle, charming script by French playwright Gerald Sibleyras is given a brilliant translation by word-wizard Tom Stoppard. It’s less tricksy than Stoppard’s own work, though occasionally reminiscent of his existentialist Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It may not astonish, but it’s so engaging you don’t want to miss a word.

The veterans sit on their beautiful terrace looking out on windswept poplars, and grumble and tease and plot mischief.  Nothing to do but wait for the end.  So far, so Waiting for Godot, but Heroes is more accessible and less profound. The old men are not smelly at all, but very dapper in their three-piece suits, well-groomed beards and shiny medals, and being in their company is like a mellow afternoon with favourite grandfathers.  

Once again director Lara McGregor (what a great appointment that has turned out to be!) has ensured the Fortune’s production values are first-class, and the play, set in 1959, has an authentic period atmosphere. The luscious, imaginatively packed programme includes a touching acknowledgement of the real Montecillo veterans who shared their memories with the Fortune.  

McGregor’s design team – Matt Best (set), Maryanne Wright-Smyth (costume), Peter King (lighting), Lindsay Gordon (sound) – have succeeded in realising her vision of a hand-tinted photograph from the Great War. The set is so lovely it has me yearning for a holiday in France: flagstones curve beneath the peeling plaster of warm terracotta walls covered with sprawling vines, enhanced by the softest of lighting.

Among the pots of lavender sits the stone statue of a huge dog. It looks suspiciously like Nana the St Bernard who guarded the Darling children from Peter Pan, just as these old warriors are treated as nursery babes and hindered from adventure, and provokes plenty of gentle comedy.

The old soldiers are beautifully dressed, with admirable attention to detail. French music captures the mood, sometimes ironically, while birdsong foreshadows the uplifting ending.

The acting is sublime, with the experienced cast inhabiting their roles absolutely. All three veterans of course suffer from disabilities, which are skilfully maintained, yet they are given a lively physicality, culminating in some serious clowning involving ludicrous plans to rope themselves together for a river crossing.  Verbally the actors crackle, firing off throwaway lines or soaring lyrically, always hitting the right note.

Peter Hayden, in an interesting departure from recent ‘cuddly’ roles, plays Gustave the natural leader magnificently, with stiff bearing and sardonic delivery.  He lets us share the grand scale of Gustave’s dreams, whether it is of escape to Indochina, or making absurd plans for the stone dog.  

Simon O’Connor is riveting as romantic enthusiast Henri, unforgettable in his rhapsodic excitement as he recounts his discovery of a school for young girls in the vicinity. O’Connor endows Henri with such charm that this dubious interest comes across as mere Gallic appreciation of feminine pulchritude.

Philippe, the quietest of the trio, inclined to fall asleep periodically due to the shrapnel in his brain, is convincingly realised by Geoffrey Heath. I particularly enjoy his wonderfully paranoid conviction that the nun who runs the place is prone to bumping off residents if they share a birth date with another, thus messing up her birthday celebrations.

The chemistry between the actors seems real and delightful, like the mutual affection of the characters. Whether they are regaining some vestige of military glory by plotting a violent campaign to defend their terrace, or planning a more modest picnic on the hill of the windswept poplars, it is clear that friendship is what makes life worth living.

So what might appear a melancholy premise for a play becomes, in the Fortune’s expert hands, a joyous celebration of life. With its mixture of pathos and gallantry Heroes is universal, and a reminder to cherish our elders, those who made our history, while we can. 


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Impractical charm in Sibleyras' gem

Review by Barbara Frame 27th Aug 2012

In a French veterans’ home, three old soldiers gather daily on a sunny, slightly dilapidated terrace graced by a stone dog. Their camaraderie is necessary, but sometimes defensive and fragile. Their chat is mostly about the home’s other occupants, and their reminiscences seldom touch on the war.

Gradually they hatch a plan for an expedition somewhere beyond the nearby cemetery – to Indochina, perhaps, or maybe just as far as the poplars on the horizon. The dog, naturally, will accompany them.

If you enjoy the low-key humour, gentle pace and quirky characters of The Last of the Summer Wine, you’ll like Heroes. Geoffrey Heath, who comes from Christchurch, and Dunedin actors Peter Hayden and Simon O’Connor draw out the idiosyncrasies if Philippe, Gustave and Henri, each distinguished by social class, attitudes, and degrees of adventurousness and infirmity.

Although French accents are not used, there’s a strong sense of the Gallic in the characters’ clothing and mannerisms. The set, as director Lara Macgregor explains in a programme note, is inspired by faded, hand-painted First World War photographs. The music is unmistakably French (Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier), but the background sound of twittering European birds is just loud enough to be more distracting than atmospheric.

Gérard Sibleyras’ play is a gem. It steers a confident course between sentimentality and the remembered horrors of war and it touches, not always pleasantly, on the comforts, perils and absurdity of old age. Tom Stoppard’s translation from the French is sensitive and witty, and the play won the 2006 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Originally titled Le Vent des Peupliers (The Wind in the Poplars), it was renamed to avoid confusion with The Wind in the Willows – with which, incidentally, it shares a fair amount of impractical charm.  


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