Heroes, Wyndhams, London

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The Independent Culture

All right, it's not just a shameless rehash. Besides director Thea Sharrock's admirable cast and lots of droll dialogue, Sibleyras' threesome are World War One veterans stuck in a military hospital-cum-retirement home in the countryside. Though there's no very sharp sense of period, we glean it's 1959, and the setting is an autumnal terrace going to seed in a picturesque fashion (designed by Robert Jones). Under a cloud-speckled blue sky and soft golden sunlight, wild flowers have pushed between the flagstones and ivy is climbing over the boundary wall.

For a moment, Griffiths, Hurt and Stott sit like sculptures, matching the terrace's quirky statue of a dog - the fourth character, an artwork. Then, as the pals start to chat, tensions emerge. Looking like a huge rosy berry in a cardigan, Griffiths' rotund Henri praises the time of year in mellow tones, only to be interrupted by Hurt's Gustave.

Elegantly skeletal in a coppery brown suit, with a face like a hilariously sour tortoise, Hurt is the negative type, eloquently damning every month in the calendar. Stott's diminutive Philippe, caught in the crossfire, tries not to express an opinion yet sparks competitiveness as their shared best pal. Ultimately, the vying develops into a nutty plan to give the nuns, who run the place, the slip and boldly trek to a line of poplars which stand, alluringly flexing in the wind, on a far-off hill. However, with a soupçon of En attendant Godot, this threesome meet in the same spot day after day, going nowhere. Henri is supposedly hobbled by a false leg. Philippe keeps falling into unconsciousness, slumping over left right and centre, due to shrapnel in the brain, and Gustave is, for all this tough talk, agoraphobic. Still, they nurse their dreams of prowess and escape.

There is much warm amusement to be had watching Heroes, especially as the plan gets surreally ludicrous. Gustave insists the dog comes too. And, of course, the company you're in has great comic timing, deserving applause. Nonetheless, Sibleyras is no great shakes even with Stoppard subtly tightening the script, and Sharrock permits naff touches. Computer-animated birds flit across the zenith, surely hoping to land in a Disney cartoon. The final symbolic tableau is cheesy too, as the ageing trio gaze at the geese heading south, themselves adopting a yearning V-formation and making as if to fly. Not exactly the best thing depuis la baguette.


To 14 January, 0870 950 0902