Centenary Theatre Group - Heroes

‘Heroes’ // Centenary Theatre Group

‘Heroes’ is Merveilleux.

Visiting Centenary Theatre Group is an intimate experience. The welcoming and warm atmosphere is worth noting as the spirit of such intimacy radiates throughout the theatre – not just in the foyer or in the audience, but onto the stage as well.

‘Heroes’ is a translation by Tom Stoppard of ‘Le Vent Des Peupliers’, an original French play by Gérald Sibleyras. It is easy to see why it may have attracted Stoppard originally; it is a comic-drama peppered with beats of irreverence and futility. The influences of the absurdist and surrealist movements are evident throughout. It is also undeniably French in its small cast, singular setting, and enigmatic wordplay.

The play follows three older gentlemen, veterans of the First World War, who are living out their twilight years in a rather bleak retirement home in the French countryside. The play is driven by the characters, not by the plot. In fact, like all the greats of absurdism, it is the lack of things happening that is central to the drama.

This is a play that is easy to get wrong. A single poor performance would derail it entirely, and a misunderstanding of the text by the production would have resulted in pure boredom for the audience. Happily, this is not the case with Centenary Theatre Group’s interpretation. Director Margaret Bell appears to be passionately aware of the play’s relevance, sophistication and nuance.  

Attendees who appreciate minimalism (ahem) will be delighted by the absence of anything on the stage that is not essential to the piece. There are a few garden chairs, benches, and a statue of a dog (which plays a surprisingly large role), and then blissful blackness. This design by Bell and Tristan Holland allows the audience to focus on the actors and their words whilst receiving clear signifiers of where and when the action takes place. Perhaps more variation in the lighting states would not have gone astray though, as it is quite stark throughout.

Most integral to the success of this production are the performances of the three actors, and these really are something special. They are men who truly understand theatre. Nothing seems unnatural or contrived; their comic timing is superb, their nuance is splendid, and it is obvious that each line and beat has been considered. Each individual audience member will likely connect to a different character and consider him their personal favourite, but each choice is easy to justify.

Cam Castles as Gustave is quippy and stubborn, desperate for the world to know that age hasn’t bested him. Castles’ is an accomplished comic performer and this makes his emotional moments all the more touching by comparison.

Henri, played by incomparable actor Gary Kilger, is apparently more resigned to his fate, attempting to protect his comrades from themselves but perhaps not having the handle on his own emotions that he may think he has.

The youngest and perhaps the most tragic of the trio is Phillipe, played with engrossing sincerity by Andrew Wallace, whose physical decline has landed him in the purgatory of the retirement home earlier than most, and one can’t but feel pangs of pity amid the comedy of his decline. The three performances are wholly unique.

The themes of the torment of nostalgia and the loss of identity that comes with losing one’s own agency may not appeal to all viewers, but there is something to love in this piece no matter who you are. It’s hard to imagine any theatre-lover who will not find something special to take away from this production of ‘Heroes’.

‘Heroes’ runs until Saturday, 30 March 2019, with an Auslan performance available on Friday, 22 March 2019. Tickets can be purchased from https://centenarytheatre.com.au/index.php/booking/. 

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