Printable CopyFAITH HEALER
Belvoir/State Theatre Company South Australia
The Space
Until 13 Oct 2018

Review by Jamie Wright

Three actors, three characters, four monologues and an air of mystery (and the mystical) – and, apart from the bows, no onstage interaction at all; such is Brian Friel’s “Faith Healer”, the story of travelling faith healer Francis Hardy (Colin Friels); his wife, Grace (Alison Whyte); and his manager, Teddy (Paul Blackwell).

The play opens with Hardy’s first monologue, where he recounts how the trio have eked out a living travelling the backroads of Wales and Scotland. The second ‘act’ is Grace’s monologue where we realise that perhaps Hardy is not the most reliable of narrators – and nor is he as good a man as he might like to think himself. Teddy then gets to tell his version, which provides some answers – but raises more questions. In the fourth and final chapter, Hardy returns to tie the loose ends together. Or does he? There are no easy answers on offer here.

Friels, first up, commands the stage with small, subtle movements and intensity; it’s a superb performance. In the second section, Whyte faces somewhat of a challenge to recapture the audience after such a powerful performance and the slight derailing effect of the scene change – but once the momentum builds, she delivers a compelling performance as the anguished Grace.

After the break – other productions have run without one, but here there was a 20-minute interval – is Teddy. This is – initially at least – a far more broadly comedic piece, and not unwelcome after the heartbreak of the preceding one, and Blackwell’s delivery is superb. But the humour is slowly overtaken by maudlin as the now-inevitable tragedy unfolds even further, and Blackwell moves with it.

Friels then returns to bookend the story, and fill in the final pieces of the puzzle, and he seems different now; is it his performance, or how our perception of the character has changed with the information that has come to light in his absence?

Director Judy Davis and the three performers have taken the dense, wordy narrative and brought it to life – these are long, intense monologues that could easily get bogged down under the weight of the material – but here, in such capable hands, it’s captivating; an engaging mix of excellent script, keen insight and tremendous performances.