“I always knew when nothing was going to happen” says the faith healer in Brian Friel’s play of the same name. Sadly, it’s also like that in the audience. You can tell when you will leave the theatre uninspired. Brian Friel’s play Faith Healer was rated as one of the 100 most significant plays of the 20th century in a poll by the National Theatre and by The Independent as one of 40 best plays of all time.
It is a play of four monologues, and you can see they would make great auditions pieces (or parts of them) because they are such a challenge.
The same story of their lives – but with conflicting detail – is told by three people: the faith healer himself “The Great Francis Hardy” (who opens the play and closes it) Hardy’s wife Grace and his manager Teddy.
They speak about what happened to them – the dreadful places they lived, the audiences who failed to appear, the people who arrived who knew they were not going to be cured – and they describe how the others reacted to it all. Francis (or Frank as the others call him) admits he is a fantasist.
He gives his wife different surnames, he tells people she is from Yorkshire, when they are both Irish. Grace describes their harsh life together. Teddy has a nuanced perspective on both of them.
As with a play by Luigi Pirandello, it is up to us which one we believe. In this production by London Classic Theatre, there is a stand out performance by Jonathan Ashley as the down to earth, cockney Teddy, which makes the play suddenly come alive.
His delivery and comic timing bring out the humour and pathos (lost elsewhere in this version). This is a sad story of travelling players, who hit hard times and face scant audiences but keep their spirits up by fooling themselves as to what is actually going on.
Is Friel telling us that is what we all do? Couples give different accounts of events and their part in them. If time heals, memory gives us a different perspective and sometimes that allows us to forgive ourselves.
The Faith Healer is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 4 and then touring until November 17.
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