Oh Ye of Little Faith
Faith Healer Review (Bevloir Theatre)
The new production of Faith Healer, Brian Friel’s 1979 play is closing at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre this month. It is a rare thing; a play stripped down to language that pops and fizzles and rolls across the audience in waves. It’s a story about belief, about transformation and dishonesty, it’s a story of how things die.
Brian Friel once again taps into the Irish power of language and the fact that the Irish have always done death, disappointment and imagined landscapes very well.
The key to this imagined landscape is the town of Ballybeg, which is the setting for his other towering success Dancing at Lughnasa and the incidents that unfold there. But to tell what happens would be to spoil it. If you go, you will know soon enough what happens and how self deceit ends for everyone involved.
The play is told as a series of four monologues. First and fourth are delivered by Colin Friel, who brings his authentic Irishness to the role of Frank Hardy, Faith Healer and powers through his monologue with a charming and brutal masculinity which barely gives the beauty of Friels script time to breathe.
The second monologue, which begins to unpick the deceit, is delivered by Grace who is the wife of Hardy. Played with a fine and luminous brilliance, Allison Whyte positively glows in the role of Grace, the rebellious judge’s daughter who was seduced into a life of mordant chicanery by Hardy.
Whyte was introduced to us as competent production manager in the ABC mockumentary Frontline. Then, we knew she was a fine actress, but her performance in this show is outstanding. With a show of restrained passion, disappointment, humour and a Mariana Trench of sadness, she sweeps the floor with rest of the cast
The Third Monologue comes from the Cockney Manager, Teddy. Played with and buoyant stride by Pip Miller, whose lightness of touch on the lines and vaudeville moves engage you in the third reveal, the final disappointments of Hardy’s life, and light the way for you as the play heaves through sadness and disappointment to its end.
The play was directed by Judy Davis, who stripped it back so spare and relied so heavily on the actors abilities that she lets the words shine. She seems to have made the most of what Brian Friel had to offer with this play, with the mythology that he creates around memory and homecoming and the mythical Balleybeg. Even to bringing Frank Hardy home in August to confront new beginnings through the metaphor of a wedding and endings, because August after all is the time of harvest.
No review of the play would be complete without mentioning the set of Brian Thompson and the lighting of Verity Hampson. The play is staged on a matt black floor which almost drowns the actors and keeps them bright in relief and central to the stage. There is no set – aside from some chairs or a table used to create a sense of the room.
The language of the play makes much of the weather and the walls of the tiny Belvoir which are painted in bruised blue and black storm clouds. Hampson’s lighting plays on this, using the light to shuffle with the clouds and the emotions she wants from us.
Theatre when done well is a physical thing. It can leave you feeling like you have been uplifted, like you’ve been in a brawl or juddering with laughter. This play made me think about myself and laid a blanket of sadness and relief on me, and that’s quite a thing for a play to do.