Faith Healer

Jan 18 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩     Truth or lies?

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Wed 14 Jan – Sat 7 Feb 2014

There is an evasive, poetic feel to Brian Friel’s Faith Healer at the Lyceum. Truth and reality seem like relative concepts in the narrative, but there is a deep emotional reality to the performances that makes the production fascinating.

The structure of the piece is often compared to Kurosawa’s legendary film Rashomon on account of the device of having the same events described by people who have varying recollections of them. However, here we only hear about these events, rather than seeing them – the whole play is comprised of monologues and there is no onstage interaction between the characters.

Sean O'Callaghan as Francis Hardy in Faith Healer at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburg, January 14-February 7, 2015, Edinburgh photo by Eoin Carey

Sean O’Callaghan as Francis Hardy in Faith Healer. Photo: Eoin Carey

The three participants – Frank Hardy (the eponymous healer), his wife Grace and his manager Teddy give us their accounts of Hardy’s tours around the backwaters of Wales and Scotland, and the traumatic events that accompanied his return to his native Ireland.

Their stories feature differences both great and small, and what really happened – even the climactic events in Friel’s favoured fictional Donegal location of Ballybeg – is never definitively explained. Instead a complex, shifting picture of the lies and half-truths we tell to others and to ourselves leads to something poetic and troubling.

The play has taken on the status of a modern masterpiece in some quarters but this may be stretching the point a little, as there are moments where the attention can slip. Only a thoroughly accomplished cast can make a success of it. Luckily, the current cast rises to the task.

desperate ploy

Sean O’Callaghan’s Frank is a brooding, hulking figure, capturing the fears, doubts and skewed charisma of the character. At times his monologues gush forth in torrents, appearing less like an attempt to express himself, and more like a desperate ploy to avoid facing up to external reality. At other times there is a profound poetic stillness to his words. In both modes, his performance is compelling, with the spectre of Beckett hanging more heavily over Friel’s work than is often the case.

Patrick Driver as Teddy in Faith Healer - Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. January 14 - February 7 2015. Photo by Eoin Carey

Patrick Driver as Teddy in Faith Healer. Photo: Eoin Carey

Both the other characters seem to define themselves largely in terms of their relationship to Frank, so it is fitting that his is the dominant performance. However, the other two actors are extremely impressive in monologues that are subtly yet clearly different in tone. Niamh McCann’s Grace has a brittle humour covering a deep sadness, with her monologue coming over as an attempt to make sense of something that threatens to overwhelm her.

Patrick Driver’s Teddy, meanwhile, is a representative of the old-school variety tradition, whose sparky humour and occasional soft-shoe shuffles cannot disguise the fact that he is also trying to rationalise and re-invent himself and his past.

Tim Mascall’s almost stark lighting ensures there is no hiding place for anyone, while Michael Taylor’s intriguing set combines church hall and front room, façade, interior and countryside scene, in a way that chimes with the constantly shifting perspectives the audience get on the same events. John Dove’s direction is careful and understated, punctuating the monologues cleverly and intelligently.

There will still be a nagging feeling for some that there is still not quite enough in here for a full-length, two-act play, and an audience not prepared to work hard and pay attention may start to feel it washing over them. However, the meditations here on truth and experience, and the exploration of the way we seek justification, not least from ourselves, remain compelling. For anyone who wants thoughtful, poetic drama, this is an intriguing performance.

Running time 2 hours 20 mins including interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX
Saturday 14 January – Saturday 7 February 2014
Tue to Sat at 7.30 pm; Weds and Sat at 2.00 pm
Tickets and details from:

Purchase the script from Amazon:

Niamh McCann as Grace Hardy in Faith Healer - Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, January 14 - February 7, 2015. Photo by Eoin Carey

Niamh McCann as Grace Hardy in Faith Healer. Photo: Eoin Carey


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