I’d never describe myself as a regular theatre goer, and so when the opportunity to watch and review a play comes along, often I have to admit I’m not familiar with the work or the author, as was the case with the current Royal Lyceum Theatre production of Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”. Based purely on the title, I wondered if I was going to witness a very serious exploration of the religious aspects of a controversial subject. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Friel is a contemporary Irish dramatist and, I have to say, a master of the English language. The play, whilst a serious one, with a number of intertwined themes throughout, is liberally scattered with a surprising amount of humour. It is at heart a simple comparison of how three people tell the same story.
Unsurprisingly, their versions have differences and it is through this that the nature of the characters are explored. The stories are told through four monologues and, unusually, the actors appear on stage individually.
The faith healer of the title, Frank Hardy, is portrayed by Sean O’Callaghan who delivers the first and last monologues in a wonderfully gritty style. Naimh McCann portrays his long-suffering ‘other half’ Grace – sometimes she appears to be his mistress, others she is referred to as his wife – in a style which brought to mind a bird fliting around the garden. The character’s nervousness was obvious without the performance being false. The third character is Teddy, Frank’s Manager, a dapper Cockney chappie, played wonderfully by Patrick Driver.
The three different versions of the stories they each tell are about the 20 plus years they have spent together touring the cheapest halls of Scotland and Wales for Frank to perform his act. The way each of them appears to remember the same incidents, both serious and trivial, highlights their very different personalities. As these are revealed, the question of why they spent so long together becomes a recurring thought.
As I said, Friel’s use of words is excellent and the way in which the story is told is certainly unusual. The cast, John Dove’s Direction, the set design, the lighting, sound and so on were all ‘top notch’. But somehow, for me, the production lacked something. Perhaps it was the pace? I’m not sure whether it needed to be faster or slower, but something was amiss. Despite that, it was a very interesting and well produced play. And nothing like what I expected!