Sunday, October 30, 2016

Faith Healer by Brian Friel

Colin Friels as Frank Hardy
in Faith Healer
Photo by Brett Boardman
Faith Healer by Brian Friel.  Presented by Belvoir at Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, October 26 – November 27, 2016

Director – Judy Davis

Set Designer – Brian Thomson; Costume Designer – Tess Schofield; Lighting Designer – Verity Hampson; Composer and Sound Designer – Paul Charlier

Performed by Colin Friels – Frank Hardy; Alison Whyte – Grace Hardy; Pip Miller – Teddy.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 29

Frank Hardy – Fantastic Faith Healer Francis Hardy, One Night Only – begins his story without telling us about his ending. 

Grace Hardy – he said mistress, she says wife – tells her story without her ending, of her life with Frank, yet without making the end of his life known, if indeed it has yet ended at all.

Teddy – manager of artistes extraordinaire, so he says – tells his story of Grace and Frank.  His own story has not yet ended.  He knows her ending, but even he does not make Frank’s ending clear.

Then Frank, now apparently after his end, tells his story with some more embellishment.  He obviously ends, but still we are not told exactly what happened.

Maybe it’s all a story of Irish blarney.  You kiss and polish the blarney stone while you tell fantastic stories, mostly about what you wish would happen.  This wasn’t mentioned in the play, but it’s what the play is about.

From our point of view it’s all about listening, and trying to work out what’s blarney and what’s not – except that the whole, the perhaps bigger, question is whether all art is just blarney – or not, as the case may be.

The three actors have clearly been directed by her excellency Judy Davis down to the very last aaargh! of their characters’ lives, but in the end – or in their ends – or even my end, there wasn’t enough beginning to make the play as significant as others seem to want to make it.  Davis makes a fair attempt in her Director’s Note, quoting Brian Friel saying “I certainly think we’re a maimed people in this country [Ireland, that is]”, that it’s about ‘issues of identity, of the importance of a sense of place, of foreign conquest, and of the damage done when one’s destiny is out of one’s control’, and concluding with ‘another quote from Friel may be helpful: “I gave up my study for the priesthood out of conflict with my belief in paganism.”

Well, perhaps, but I honestly think Brian Friel couldn’t match his sort-of confrere, Samuel Beckett.  This is because Beckett created, and knew he was creating, an original form of drama, a new genre in the aburdist line.  Friel’s story-writing is apparently ordinarily naturalistic – and so the possibilities remain rather ordinary – while Beckett created metaphors redolent with interpretations.

This doesn’t mean that Faith Healer isn’t quite watchable – the actors are very good at naturalism after all – but there’s not the poetry I need.  Maybe that’s my version of blarney.  You might well feel differently if you kiss the stone.