Faith Healer

Rod Goodall in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

Rod Goodall in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

Ali White in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

Ali White in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

Lalor Roddy in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

Lalor Roddy in 'Faith Healer' by Brian Friel. Photo: Jane Talbot

When Lalor Roddy’s darkened body, only his mouth illuminated, takes to the stage reciting place names of Welsh villages in a concentrated, pained and panicked tone, Frank Hardy is once again re-imagined as the tortured roving healer endowed with the gift of healing and the propensity to con. Ralph Fiennes' portrayal a number of years ago brought to Hardy the lacerating vanity of a dreamer and a demon, whilst Donal McCann is revered by many as the one true Hardy, tortured narcissist, spitting those twisted syllables of Welsh place names on to the bare boards of the stage, like a beast in pain.

And this is the essence of Faith Healer. It is about self loathing and its impact on one’s view of others as much as it is about the curse of talent that Teddy tells us in reference to Frank: “That’s all the stupid bastard had was brains. Brains castrated him.” It is about the lies we tell ourselves to avoid reality; the relationships we form to feed our insatiable appetites for connection to that part of the self that has been lost somewhere in the annals of childhood; and the irreparable damage inflicted by those entrusted with our shaping.

In Faith Healer, Friel shows how we weave stories from our memories as analgesics to our pain, stories with a shake of truth kneaded in fiction – but even in creating these fictions, we cannot avoid ourselves. Faith Healer says loudly and clearly that we can reinvent and re-imagine our pasts to great effect but the truth of those lives will betray the fictions.

Lalor Roddy, Ali White and Rod Goodall under Andrew Flynn’s somewhat lyrical direction give us a detailed map of this view in their four monologues. Lalor Roddy’s Hardy is laden in melancholy that is rarely lifted by the humour in his recounting of their escapades in the parish halls of Scottish and Welsh towns, where the great Frank Hardy practised his art of healing to varying success. His wife, Grace Hardy’s role in this story could be interpreted as that of a victim but in this version Ali White under Flynn’s direction gives us a woman who is as much an accomplice as she is downtrodden. Rod Goodall’s Teddy is a fantastic infusion of a faded cockney impresario and a wily man who has given his life to the pair in the hope of profit – but in the end he too must settle for his own rich fiction of their lives together.

As each conflicting monologue unfolds, the three protagonists make a great job of drawing us into their lives as we try to decipher the truth from that which has gone before. Finally, of course, we realise that there is no one pure truth in any of the stories, and the evidence before us shows that for richer, for poorer, for better for worse, in sickness and in fury, the trio’s commitment to one another is an addictive force that cannot be broken.

Frank and Grace love and loathe one another and Teddy’s solace comes from loving them both. While Roddy’s portrayal of Frank excels as an egocentric, confused and complicated man, there is little sense of that emotional flashiness in his performance that we might expect from a charming talent such as Frank, and while his cruelties are brilliantly recounted by White’s suffering Grace, one suspects that Roddy is slightly under directed and therefore fails to reveal that menacing charm. Nevertheless, Roddy’s Hardy commands a damning presence on the stage as his mastery of Friel’s poetic dialogue is forceful and beautifully fractured in his telling.

Ali White’s performance as Grace is credibly imbued with the weariness and anger of the wounded and we easily see in her Friel’s creation of a woman that love has destroyed; we see her strength at endurance and her slavery to degradation.

Rod Goodall’s bow-tied Teddy and shabby eloquence is a great portrayal of an elderly quasi-sophisticated cockney. Teddy copperfastens Friel’s narrative intention to tell the truth through lies, and this Goodall does with the light-hearted affectation of a showbiz crook with a heart.

Owen MacCarthaigh’s set design of a simple stage scattered with a handful of chairs for the believers of faith healers and SinĂ©ad McKenna’s quirky alternating shades of light and dark with often partial illuminations of stage and characters, skilfully transposes the setting to the desolation of the places Friel’s characters inhabit.

Four monologues over three hours is a tough enough commitment to ask from an audience even from a favoured playwright – but these actors pulled it off. From the rain swept Kinlochbervie (if we are to believe Grace) or the sun bathed Kinlochbervie (if we are to believe Frank), where Grace’s stillborn child is buried (all agree on this), from Frank’s Waterloo in a Donegal town to Grace and Teddy’s London refuge, we are transfixed and interested to the end.

Breda Shannon is a freelance writer and reviews books for The Irish Examiner.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Faith Healer by Brian Friel

26 Aug - 5 November, 2011

Produced by Town Hall Theatre
In Town Hall Theatre

Directed by Andrew Flynn

Set Design: Owen MacCarthaigh

Lighting Design: Sinead McKenna

Costume Design: Charmian Goodall

With: Lalor Roddy, Ali White and Rod Goodall