Under the direction of Judy Davis, Brian Friel’s Faith Healer is intense and rewarding theatre, rendered by an excellent cast.
Like Chekhov, Friel is not interested in the successful or content, presenting characters marked by loneliness, outsiders who don’t quite fit the world they must inhabit.
Structured neatly around four monologues from the three characters, the audience is never granted the satisfaction of seeing any of the trio share the stage. Had Friel surrendered to any such impulse, however, we would be denied the play’s great study in subjectivity. It’s the contradictions, both large and small, between the accounts of Frank, Grace and Teddy that are at the heart of this piece which never yields to any hint of an objective reality.
With no character interaction, the play asks a great deal of both performers and audience. This is no easy night in the theatre.
In the titular role of Frank Hardy, Colin Friels completely inhabits all the conflict of the character. At various times we feel, pity, disgust and even admiration for the man, with Friels seamlessly drawing us through these transitions. As Grace, Frank’s wife or mistress (we never find out which), Alison Whyte is utterly convincing. Her subtle physicality and the vulnerabilities that manifest in her vocal delivery arouse our empathy more than anyone else in the piece. Paul Blackwell completes the triptych as ex-vaudevillian manager Teddy, providing a much needed counterpoint in the play through the humour of his delivery. But even such levity masks a darkness revealed by Blackwell while downing bottles of beer.
With clear, intelligent direction from Judy Davis and a spare set by Brian Thomson in which the character are free conjure their unreliable memories, Faith Healer works well. The set’s backdrop of grey clouds is particularly effective, partnering with Verity Hampson’s lighting to affect mood changes.
Faith Healer is not for everyone. It is, in various turns, frustrating, brutal, meandering and occasionally funny. But if you can cope with all that, it all makes for great theatre.
Faith Healer runs until 13th October at the Space Theatre, with tickets and details here.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor