‘Aberarder, Aberayron, Llangranog, Llangurig.’
And so begins the story of the charming and slightly off kilter Francis Hardy (Colin Friel); healer of the sick and self proclaimed sharman to the masses. He quotes the names of dying Welsh villages to give him strength in his hour of need. A man who travels around England, Scotland and Wales in a run down caravan with his mistress ( AKA his wife) Francis, (Alison Whyte) and his manager Teddy, (Pip Miller) bringing hope to desperate souls seeking to rid their bodies of affliction and infirmity. Only one problem. Hardy’s miracles aren’t consistent. He desperately craves the ability to change lives and finds himself falling short.
And so the play begins.
Faith Healer by Brian Friel is a series of four monologues. Its premiere in 1979 received little fanfare. First produced on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre with James Mason in the title role, it managed to stay alive for only 20 performances.
This will not be the case for the Belvoir production.
Judy Davis’ s direction is powerful and thought provoking. The performances of Colin Friel, Alison Whyte and Pip Miller are outstanding to say the least.
Friel’s subtly underpins the complexities of the character Hardy, brilliantly. His command of the stage is impressive. Initially, we are led to believe Hardy is a man with a good heart. Later we come to see that he is fundamentally, painfully flawed and yet, we want him to be the faith healer he so desperately desires. We want to see that miracles can happen.
Whyte’s portrayal of Grace is mesmerising. The subtle character evolution as each event is re-told from her perspective adds depth to not only her character, but all others. There is no catharsis but a constant sense of imbalance as more of the events unfold. Whyte has the innate ability to inject toughness, dignity and resolve in Grace. She reveals the cracks in Hardy’s character.
Pip Miller is striking as the loyal, warm manager, Teddy. Miller brings a spark to the stage. His character is instantly recognisable as the Jack of all trades. His loyalty to Hardy and Grace is unwavering, even as he recounts the most painful memories of their lives.
Although the script contains separate monologues, there is no mistaking the emotional connection each character shares. The finite detailing of each monologue creates a clear, harrowing world that unravels as the gaps in each of the stories are expanded and explored by one another.
The Production elements of the play beautifully highlight the yearning and loss of the characters. Brian Thomson’s set design is on point. Simple, effective and uncluttered by the visual ‘filler’ sometimes needed to provided character clues missing in text or performance. Lighting design by Verity Hampson and Daniel Barber subtly highlight the journey of the characters.
Friel’s message in this play is clear. Life can be complex, and dysfunctional. He unapologetically reveals the darker side of human nature: the imbalance and chaos and love. It’s a brave, engaging story to tell.
Faith Healer runs at Belvoir Upstairs theatre to 27 November.
Lee Anderson – Theatre Now and Talking Arts