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Faith Healer: Three actors in search of the truth

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Faith Health by Brian Friel

Plumb Productions

Pitt St Theatre, 78 Pitt St Newton

Until April 24

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Brian Friel’s Faith Healer is a seemingly simple play in which three characters speak four monologues, each recalling the same events from their differing perspectives.  Each of the characters presents their lives and their perceptions of the other two with a mix of pop psychology, personal angst and wit.

It tells the story of the life of the faith healer Frank Hardy and his journey through the rural halls and kirks of Scotland and Wales along with his wife Grace and manager Teddy. In each of the little towns Frank puts on his “performance” in which he offers to cure people of their ailments. Despite this being a con there is an occasional triumphal miracle and on one occasion a hall of ten people were all healed.

Behind this seemingly simple façade however there is a complex labyrinth of  shifting memory, flawed understanding and cynicism where reality and illusion clash.

There are a couple of incidents which loom large in in their stories and each of their accounts vary in detail and truth showing that at least two of them are lying. It is left to the audience to decide.

Following his “vocation without a ministry” Joseph Rye captures Frank’s charisma, his belief in himself and his power. His rambling merge  fact and fiction with all  the skills of the preacher and salesman. Frank talks about his performances before the blind, lame and disfigured saying they don’t come to be cured they come to have their condition acknowledged, like the  theatre where the audience sees themselves reflected on stage

Rye creates images of people,  places events with verbal dexterity a face alive with nuance along with some subtle gestures.

David Aston’s Teddy comes close to being a stand-up comedian for much of his monologue. He is  a quick-witted spiv with a heart of tarnished gold who is captivated by Frank. He senses that Frank is a charlatan, but a couple of miracles and he is obsessed. His monologue combines memories of his previous successes – a whippet which could play the bagpipes along with  with the fraught history of his life with Frank and Grace. He also makes some astute remarks about creatives – they need to have ambition, talent and be brainless.

On opening night Aston had to call on the prompt a few times. Not only did he handle the situations professionally, but it felt as these added to the whole notion of playwright/directorial intervention, breaking through the convention of the actor being fully immersed in a part.

Grace, Frank’s disparaged and tragic wife delvers her monologue with an emotional intensity but she doesn’t convince of her hard life of cigarettes smoking and drinking  and a life crippled by Frank and possibly Teddy.

The play it something of an extended metaphor about art and the tension between reality and illusion. With each of the monologues we are led into thoughts and experiences of an individual, presented with many truths and lies and we as audience members must assemble the truth as we see it. The play also makes us aware of the magic which comes with the actors ability to create illusions of truth.

Paul Gittens direction and simple stage design along with Friel combination of lyric and tense dialogue make the play riveting and though-provoking.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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