My granny always told me to be wary when couples tell stories about each other. She said ‘There’ll be two sides of the story and somewhere in the middle there’ll be the truth”. Brian Friel reels you into the false world of Faith Healer and brings you on a thought provoking and frustrating quest for the truth.
As the rain fell inside The Donmar, audience members in the front row covered their knees with their jackets in a bid to protect themselves from the rain. The room is filled with darkness and then with a fast flash, Frank Hardy (Stephen Dillane) appears, ready to relay to us his life as an itinerant ‘faith healer’ and the glamour that ensued. It is obvious from the get-go with the grubby cloth poster, his worn out shoes and tattered attire that those days of magic are long gone. Significant points in his life such as the death of his mother, a successful show in Wales and his return to Donegal are retold by his wife Grace and manager Teddy in separate, nostalgic and emotionally filled monologues. Naturally enough, there are some discrepancies between the three memories.
The story telling is fast paced, laced with sentiment, dedication and pain. The power of the English language through the medium of Friel’s writing is remarkable and enthralling – each word, punctuation and breath holds so many meanings to each story being told. The acting is impeccable and powerful, creating the world of the faith healer, each word from the actors constructing the past life they once lived. Stephen Dillane as Frank is self-deprecating, dismissive and almost bohemian. The only show of emotion is when he speaks about his mother which breaks the cold and hard exterior Dillane assumes as Frank. Gina McKee as Grace is unnerving and beguiling, slowly letting the audience take glimpses at her troublesome life with Frank. Ron Cook as the manager Teddy takes our imaginations to a world of bagpipe playing dogs that make us truly realise that the narrator can’t be trusted. Could any?
Lyndsey Turner directs this magnificent production of Faith Healer. With every movement on point, quick and meticulous scene changes allowed the audience to become truly immersed and invested in the world of Frank Hardy, much like his audiences of past. Turner reassembled the design of Cumberbatch’s Hamlet to create an eerie and sham like world inside The Donmar.
Friel’s conscientious choice of words, the intertwining and contrasting tales of the trio are baffling and confronting. Questions are raised about Frank Hardy that will never be answered, but provoke those questions inside ourselves, where we wonder what really is the truth and even as our own personal narrators – can we trust ourselves?
Faith Healer is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until the 20 of August, tickets can be found at
The Donmar Warehouse website.
Photo: Johan Persson