By Kate Herbert
Friday, 10 March 2017
Faith Healer, March 9, 2017 ****
By Brian Friel, a Belvoir production, presented by Melbourne Theatre Company
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, until April 8, 2017
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Coin Friels as Frank Hardy in Faith Healer Belvoir/ MTC
Memory may be unreliable, but the troubled characters in Irish playwright Brian Friel’s challenging and moving play, Faith Healer, reframe their memories of a shared past to suit their own needs.
In this enthralling production, with its captivating performances and assured, unobtrusive direction by the inimitable Judy Davis, Colin Friels is compelling as Francis (Frank) Hardy, an itinerant, Irish faith healer with erratic – but sometimes formidable and miraculous – healing powers.
For decades, Frank toured his ‘show’ in a ramshackle van to small, UK towns, accompanied by his loyal support team: Grace (Alison Whyte), his beleaguered, long-term mistress, and Teddy (Paul Blackwell), his relentlessly cheery and tenacious, cockney manager.
Friel’s language-driven play comprises four monologues – the first and last delivered by Frank – each of which conjures narrative, characters, emotion and landscape through Friel’s evocative, lyrical and often hilarious, word pictures.
The story of the trio’s shared past leaks out as each fills in his or her recollections and perspectives.
Whose version of their story is true? What really happened to Grace’s baby and what transpired in the pub in the tiny Irish town of Ballybeg that night a year ago?
The sparse stage design (Brian Thomson) resembles a shabby, local hall littered with pitiful chairs and overlooked by a tattered banner that declares brazenly, ‘Fantastic Francis Hardy – Faith Healer’.
Frank is both miracle-worker and conman who describes his life as ‘balanced somewhere between the absurd and the momentous.’
Friels effortlessly captures Frank’s almost irresistible charm and whimsical storytelling that is tainted by his irascible and obstinate temperament, unremitting boozing, unreliability and total self-absorption.
With his green socks peeping out below his threadbare, ill-fitting suit, Friels prowls the dusty stage with a booze-addled fervour, recounting and reliving the remarkable night when, in a Welsh village years earlier, he genuinely healed ten people of major ailments, including blindness.
Whyte superbly embodies Grace’s aching grief and desperation as she perches alone in her London bedsit, gulping glasses of booze as she rifles her memory for moments of love and loss, colouring the same tales we have heard from Frank with her jaded, perhaps more realistic, view of her selfish lover.
Blackwell plays the lovable Teddy with warmth, sympathy and impeccable comic timing as he recounts his version of the fraught relationships and alarming events that occurred in his years with Frank and Grace.
Alison Whyte as Grace in Faith Healer Belvoir/ MTC
Friel’s audacious storytelling is both whimsical and poignant, tinged with bold, Irish comedy and a potent philosophical commentary on the human condition.
Friel deserves his reputation as one of the greatest, Irish playwrights and this production of Faith Healer, with its accomplished direction and performances, does justice to his legacy.
By Kate Herbert
By Kate Herbert
Paul Blackwell as Teddy in Faith Healer Belvoir/ MTC
Colin Friels - Francis Hardy
Alison Whyte - GracePaul Blackwell - Teddy
Judy Davis - Director
Brian Thomson - Set
Tess Schofield - Costume
Verity Hampson - Lighting
Paul Charlier - Composer/ Sound