Throughout their am-dram history, these musketeers of comedy have proved themselves forces to be reckoned with in Pendle’s theatre scene.
Returning in the same line-up in Heroes - working with Marilyn Crowther for Colne Dramatic Society; appearing in 2013 for The Garrick under the direction of Martin Chadwick - Alan Bailey, Peter Allen and Alan Hargreaves showcased an abundance of chemistry. It’s not surprising they’ve become much loved and respected performers in the am-dram scene.
Comic timing was sometimes off but this was overshadowed by the naturalness of translator Tom Stoppard’s language and the bubbling chemistry: the pace floated along, despite the lack of action.
Focusing heavily on character development, Heroes is a paradoxical tale of three veterans of the First World War living in a French retirement home. It offered a vivid look at mental illness and the impact of trauma, the trio delivering sharp and idiosyncratic performances.
As the veterans reimagine their former selves - plotting their escape; defending their territory, a private terrace; the carehome becoming a microcosm for life on the frontline - the armour of play exposes their mental scars.
Fun and poignancy were thus presented in equilibrium: this military fantasy offering the friends an escape from monotony, the shadow of death and a sense of meaninglessness. The three transport themselves back to the war, a time when their lives had a clear purpose: existing with a tunnel view of survival, their single goal to return to a world full of hope and possibility.
Range and balance created interesting characterisation: Bailey wove layers of feeling - pride, fear, insecurity - as the agoraphobic Gustave; Allen clothed Henri in sprightly expression, cut with frustration surrounding his lame leg; and Hargreaves, as chronic fainter Philippe, pierced mischief with shots of poignancy.
You could say, however, the humour is in the firing line: at times playwright Gérald Sibleyras’ sexual jokes were uncomfortable and derogatory to women.
Still, Heroes swelled with froths of banter and bubbles of tenderness and the characters were real - though at times disagreeable - and it was touching to see troubled men find comfort in play and imagination. The show offered an intriguing exploration of trauma but I only wish it made more of the gentler drops of comedy, with the friendship between the characters paralleling the chemistry of the actors. Perhaps it is the naive idealist in me wishing to have seen the wounds of war wrapped in the bandages of friendship.
Performances continue tonight and tomorrow at 7-30pm at The Little Theatre, River Street, Colne. Book on 01282 861424.