Faith Healer – Review

With the set of Faith Healer, you get what you see: any old-fashioned church hall in any small town; precisely the kind of place where a handful of the desperate would congregate for a miracle from a travelling faith healer.  It’s the only straightforward part of Brian Friel’s acclaimed play, ably directed at the Lyceum by John Dove.

Faith Healer tells the story of Frank Hardy, the tortured – there is no other word for it – artist of the title who tours Scotland and Wales attempting to cure the lame and the sick.  His wife, Grace, and manager, Teddy travel with him. These three characters are, in turn, alone on stage, each delivering a monologue, each re-telling the same harrowing events of their journey.  Except, the story is different each time (known in writing jargon as the Rashomon Effect) and the audience is ultimately reminded that there is no such thing as one reliable memory or one objective truth in life or art;  consciously or unconsciously people who recount a story tell it differently.

Faith Healer requires the audience above all, to listen, then to think, to interpret and constantly to cross-reference the four (Frank speaks twice) monologues.  It is thought-provoking, haunting and a play that requires the actors to be story-tellers.

Any actor opening a performance is particularly challenged to ‘hook’ the audience and the structure of Faith Healer must make it an even greater test of skill and nerves.  As Frank, Sean O’Callaghan rises admirably to the task.  For the first few minutes I did wonder was O’Callaghan dealing with it by being over-expansive, using over-large gestures – dare I say it, over-acting?   Then I realised that no, he wasn’t.   Sean O’Callaghan is being Frank Hardy and Frank is a performer.  That’s what he does in his faith healing, he plays himself; he is sincere but he is larger than life.

If any corroboration is needed, it comes with Grace’s analysis of Frank and the way in which Niamh McCann portrays Grace as a woman living on her nerves, which are giving out, equally in thrall to Frank and tormented by him.  On the surface, Patrick Driver as Teddy offers some light relief, but only on the surface.  Teddy is as entrenched in this unholy trio as the other two. The characters look the parts, they sound the parts and they do justice to Friel’s rich and evocative language.

There are many plays I would like to see again.  Faith Healer is one of the rarer ones that I will now go away and read – with the Lyceum’s production as my reference point.  Go and see it; you’ll not only reflect endlessly on the play, but on life, art and truth as well.

Star Rating *****

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