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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Wyndham's Theatre     Autumn 2005

If this fragile little comedy were any thinner it would blow away. As it is, it has just enough substance to provide eighty minutes in the company of three very personable actors.

Written in French by Gerald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard (more on him later), the play shows three First World War veterans whiling away their lives in an Old Soldiers' Home in 1959.

Predictably, they are contrasting types - the sensible one, the glum and haughty one and the amiable one whose head wounds keep sending him off into brief faints.

Over a period of weeks, they meet on the lawn to complain about the nuns, reminisce about women, look at the scenery.

There's a lot of gentle laughter, much of it generated by their turning a planned excursion off the hospital grounds into a complicated military operation, and some gentle pathos arising from our growing awareness that each of them, in different ways, is not up to living outside this protected environment.

But mostly there are Richard Griffiths, John Hurt and Ken Stott, each of them someone you would happily pay just to sit in the company of, each of them playing their roles with the absolute mastery that makes it all seem effortless and real.

Griffiths is the jolly, reasonable one repeatedly caught up short by reminders of his friends' eccentricities. Hurt gets some of the first laughs as the grumpy one, and then slowly exposes the mental and emotional fragility beneath that mask. A

nd Stott, who stole all the reviews in a similar role in the original cast of Art, is the somewhat patronised weak one capable of surprising (because understated) drollery.

The play wears its debts and influences - to Reza's Art and David Storey's Home among others - lightly and openly, and makes no claims to be more than it is.

Tom Stoppard translates unobtrusively, with only the occasional line the statue of a dog plays a featured role, and when Richard Griffiths' character decides his buddies have gone mad, he says 'You're all barking, except the dog.' - betraying his touch. Thea Sharrock directs with exactly the gentleness required.

Gerald Berkowitz

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