By Gerard Sibleyras, translated by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Claire Lovett
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Date: Monday 9th October 2006
This was a French piece, similar to Art in that it’s about the relationships amongst three men. The three are WWI veterans, living out their days in a military hospital. They talk and grumble amongst themselves, and plan a daring escape, only to be foiled by the reality of their debilities.
It’s a short piece – only one and a half hours long, though not even that tonight. There were a good few laughs, and I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been for the unfortunate woman on my left who turned out to be a serious fidgeter. Unfortunately, she showed no signs of fidgeting before the off; it was only when the lights went down that she began her activity – getting her glasses out of her handbag, folding her programme and putting in her bag (at the fifth attempt!), getting her bag back on the floor, getting her glasses on, and then, sadly, continuing to twitch and move around for most of the rest of the performance. Very distracting. I missed the first few minutes almost completely.
Once I got into the play, I found it entertaining but a bit insubstantial. The three characters are all well drawn. Gustave, the hard-bitten cynic, is terrified of going out of the hospital grounds, Henri is lame but still gets around and seems to have accepted his situation more than the others, and Phillipe has a piece of shrapnel lodged somewhere which causes him to pass out frequently. When he comes to, he’s always calling out “Take them from behind, Captain, take them from behind”, which we assume to be a military reference, until he lets us know that “Captain” was what a lover of his liked to be called.
Overall, it was more like a series of sketches than a play. Some of the situations were pretty funny. There’s a stone statue of a dog that Phillipe thinks he can see moving. Gustave plays along with this, but Henri thinks it’s a load of nonsense. Phillipe also believes that one of the nurses, Sister Madeleine, is bumping off inmates who share the same birthday, so as not to have two parties on the same day. He gets worried when another veteran arrives who shares his birthday, as he thinks he’s going to be the next on her list. This is one reason why they decide to head off together, to make a break for freedom. Sadly, Phillipe and Gustave want to take the dog with them, and this proves too much for Henri, who flounces off.
They have a scene where they practise roping themselves together which has a few laughs, and I felt that the final scene, when Gustave tells Phillipe that his sister’s died, could have been funnier. (Phillipe has been giving Gustave his letters from home, to which Gustave has been replying, so Phillipe has no idea what’s happened in his family. Apparently the funeral went very well.) I would like to see another production of this play sometime, to get a better chance of appreciating it without so much distraction.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me