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Faith Healer

Nicola Mostyn is gripped by this story of a mixed blessing

Published on November 7th 2007.

Faith Healer

According to director Roger Haines, when one of the actors in this production referred to the play in the media as ‘The Faith Healer’ he received a phone call from the play’s eminent author Brian Friel pointing out that the play is actually called Faith Healer and should be referred to as such. This might seem an excessive step to take (I wouldn’t have liked to be at the end of that phone) but the importance of this lack of the definite article speaks volumes about a play which uses its language with critical care.

And it has to, since the play is comprised of four monologues. The first is delivered by Frank Hardy (Ged McKenna), a man gifted with healing abilities, the second is by his partner Grace (Stella Madden), the third his dapper agent Teddy (Kim Durham). For the fourth and final monologue the floor belongs, once again, to Frank.

Each of the characters speaks to the audience against a spare and starkly lit backdrop where every detail seems to hold a clue: the way Frank, speaking in a church hall, sports a suit offset by a pair of bright green socks, how Grace’s entry to take her place by her whiskey glass is heralded by the glow of a cigarette and the way Teddy carefully lifts the arm of his gramophone and disposes of his empty beer bottles. Behind each of them hangs the same poster: ‘Fantastic Frank Hardy. For One Night Only’, a motif of what has united them.

But, if it was Frank’s gift which brought them together then the audience are quick to discover that there's plenty to divide them. While the three are telling the same story - the story of Frank’s ability, of their life on the road and of how that life came to an end - each of them follows the twists and turns of their own perspective until their stories directly contradict. Their descriptions of each other’s characters are set against what we seem to see for ourselves. Eventually, it transpires that they share neither the same view of their shared history, nor, poignantly, the same space in time.

An outstanding cast is needed to do justice to this intense and emotive play and this production happily has one in the form of McKenna, Madden and Durham. Despite the conflict between their characters and the fact that they have zero stage time together, the three soon feel like they belong together.

A powerful and by no means light-hearted piece of work, the play is happily eased along by some wonderful humour, much of which comes from the delightful character of Teddy with his showbiz manner, his winning innocence and his stories about performing pigeons and dogs playing bagpipes.

With Teddy left to remember the glory days, Frank and Grace spend their time reflecting on the impact of Frank’s gift; how, in Frank’s words, when it works it makes him feel complete: how, in Grace’s words, Frank uses it to ‘recreate’ people, a nod to how all three characters have recreated at least a part of their lives together to create the story they want to tell.

Commanded by their hypnotic intensity, we are carried through the trio’s mismatching stories, each potentially false memory fleshing out the characters until despite the contradictions - or because of them – the audience is eventually able to see through the opaqueness to a hazy glimpse of the whole.

While Faith Healer takes as its subject matter this strange, spiritual ability, the play is ultimately a meditation on talent, on the paralysis and power afforded by a capricious and little understood gift and on the questions it raises: whether it gives you the right to cause harm to those you love, whether, possessing it, you owe the world something, whether you are master of your talent, or it's master of you.

In the end, the distinction between Faith Healer and ‘The Faith Healer’ becomes unmistakable: the play is not about one gifted man but about the idea of an act, some unknown, indefinable something which might heal one’s faith, an illusive thing which Grace, Teddy and Frank were all pursuing.

Faith Healer, Library Theatre, Central Library, St Peter’s Square, City. 0161 236 7110
To 17 Nov. From £9.

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