Grand Theatre, Blackpool
Set in 1959 in a French retirement home for First World War veterans run by nuns, Heroes is the story of three old men whose meaningful lives were finished by the war.
They sit in the gardens contemplating the world around them until, one day, they devise a plan to escape to the top of a distant hill where the poplar trees wave.
In the West End, where Tom Stoppard’s translation of the original French play won the 2006 Laurence Olivier Award for the Best Comedy, John Hurt, Richard Griffiths and Ken Stott played the three old soldiers.
Here, on the stage of Blackpool’s magnificent Grand Theatre, Jeff Redfern played the aristocratic Gustav, leader of the pack but now agoraphobic after losing his wife to an apothecary after the war.
Andy Cooke played Phillipe, who once had dreams of being a concert pianist before a piece of shrapnel got lodged in his head.
Now he suffers from constant fainting fits and a fear that the Matron, Sister Madeleine, is trying to kill him.
Peter Hoyle was Henri, saddled with a prominent limp and a walking stick when all he wanted in life was to be a picture framer.
Henri has a crush on the local schoolteacher whom he sees out walking but hasn’t yet ventured to speak to her.
The play is full of gentle humour.
At first, I regarded it more as a radio play, just three old men sitting on a bench chatting, but when Henri was showing Gustave how to greet strangers, his inane attempts at nodding had the audience convulsed, and Philippe’s lapses into unconsciousness had a similar comic effect.
At one point, Gustave insisted Phillipe climb on his back, in case they would need to negotiate a stream, a feat of gymnastics that had me looking round for a St John ambulanceman as they tottered round the edge of the stage..
In the end, climbing the hill becomes one challenge too many and when Gustav insists they take the ornamental stone dog with them, the others give up.
The actors played their parts magnificently, making the characters come alive which was a tribute to them as they never looked as decrepit as the roles demanded.