2, 4, and 5 September, 19.30
Amid the elegant surroundings of the King’s theatre, Dublin’s Gate Theatre presents Faith Healer, one of three plays intended to celebrate the 80th birthday of Brian Friel, arguably Ireland’s greatest living playwright.
The play is split into four lengthy monologues, of which the first and last are spoken by Frank Hardy, a travelling faith healer, played by the impressive Owen Roe. In his sonorous Irish tones, Roe immediately convinces us of a character whose swaggering showmanship is undercut by the deep regret and pain that lingers just beneath the surface.
The relevance of each detail Hardy gives us of his life story suddenly becomes vital to our understanding of the play, when Grace begins her monologue, throwing into doubt many elements of Hardy’s account. Why, for instance, did he make no mention of their baby, tragically stillborn during their stay in Konlochbervie? Is Grace Harvey’s wife or his mistress? Even the two characters’ descriptions of what the weather was like during their stay in Sutherland are contradictory.
These discrepancies cause us to question the veracity of each character’s account, and perhaps even the truthfulness of theatrical story-telling itself, since they cannot be explained merely by a difference in perspective.
Fortunately, for those not fond of metatheatre, the story and characters of Faith Healer are powerful enough to carry it along regardless. Grace’s anguish at her conflicting bitterness and devotion towards Hardy are powerfully conveyed, both in the precision of Friel’s writing, and the quality of Ingrid Craigie’s performance. Teddy, Frank’s wheeler-dealer manager, provides relief with his humorous third monologue, although ultimately his account too is tinged with sadness.
The absence of any interaction between the main characters may be a turn-off for some, but nonetheless this is a very accomplished production, which invokes deep reflection about the different ways people cope with grief, and the destructive nature of relationships from which there is often no escape.