Originally written for French audiences by Gerald Sibleyras, and translated for English audiences by Tom Stoppard, QTC’s Heroes tells the story of three war veterans whiling away their last days in a French veterans hospital.
Henri, played by Max Gillies, has a lame leg, and has spent the last 25 years of his life in the hospital. While Henri is perfectly comfortable with the routine of the hospital, new inmate Gustave, played by Robert Coleby, is desperate to leave, yet suffers from agoraphobia. Phillippe, played by Barry Otto, is the most paranoid and the most unwell of the three, and insists that the head nurse is out to kill him. When Phillippe’s theory develops in its insistency, the three friends hatch a plan to escape the hospital. As they sit on their favourite terrace, and converse about the poplars and the stone dog, the three men develop their plan, and thus their journey begins.
Sibleyras speaks of being influenced by Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in the writing of Heroes, and this influence is clearly evident throughout the piece. The story is absurd in nature. The three characters constantly go round in circles, planning and waiting for something that will never happen, and yet it is the only thing that keeps them going. Yet, the story does not have the dark nature of pure absurdism. There is a sense of hope to Heroes. The characters might never get anywhere, but they still have each other.
The three actors are superb. Every character is given both courage and vulnerability. Henri is the straight man. He is the solid sense of reason for Gustave’s outlandish plans; he is the voice of comfort for Phillippe’s hysteria; and he holds in sense the men’s good conscience. Max Gillies plays Henri as a gentle man. He acts as the homely old grandfather that everyone would love to have. The staunch and fearless Gustave is given a surprising sense of humour by actor Robert Coleby. While his gruff nature is certainly not as attractive as Gillies’ Henri, he is equally charismatic in his own right.
Barry Otto’s Phillippe is seamless. He has perfect control over his body. Every nuance of character is held firmly throughout the play: the slightly puckered bottom lip; the legs that bend off at an angle; the gentle tremours that rack his body. He gives the character the most beautiful vulnerability, yet is still charming with Phillippe’s bright personality that is just bursting to come forth from his troubled mind and body.
With a story that is sad, humourous and beautiful, and actors who are skilled in their delivery, it is inevitable that the play will be highly moving and metaphoric. Unfortunately, Heroes was given a rather lame ending. The dialogue being spoken was a beautiful metaphor for the characters’ lives. However, not only did they speak these lines, but they acted them out in a clichéd physical movement. The text was evocative enough on its own, and it did not need to be spelt out for the audience with a visual counterpart. It lost some of the metaphor’s power, and just ended up looking a little simple.
Overall, it is a heart-rending and enlightening piece, with all the subtleties that you would expect good theatre to have. It is surprising, charming, humble and graceful. The highlight is certainly the skill of the actors. A heroic production in all.
Queensland Theatre Company
by Tom Stoppard
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Date: Tues - Sat, 12 Nov to 15 Dec 2007
Tickets: (inc. fees) $26.00 to $56.00
Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no interval)
Bookings: qtix on 136 246 or go to qtix.com.au
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