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19th September 2023 - 23rd September 2023
London Classic Theatre presents
by Brian Friel
Directed by Michael Cabot
Frank Hardy has a gift. A gift of healing.
A frayed banner hangs outside a desolate village hall. The sick, the suffering and the desperate arrive from out of the wind and the rain. They come in search of restoration, a cure. They are promised ‘a performance’, an opportunity to spend an intimate moment with a mercurial showman, who offers hope and salvation to the afflicted.
Through the 1950s and 1960s, Hardy and his wife, Grace, travel to remote corners of Scotland and Wales, before eventually returning to Frank’s native Ireland. Accompanied by his manager Teddy, they move from village to village, bringing with them an unpredictable mix of theatricality and the spiritual.
Using four enthralling monologues to interweave the stories of these three intriguing characters, Brian Friel takes us on an extraordinary journey of shifting perspectives and uncertain memories.
Brian Friel (1929-2015) was an award-winning Irish playwright and author. He is widely regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest dramatists, having written over thirty plays across six decades. His major works include Translations, Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney and Philadelphia, Here I Come!
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
A View from the Stalls - Pete Phillips
A fascinating look at a 1950s travelling Faith Healer
From the company which recently brought Abigail's Party and Boeing Boeing to the Malvern stage, the latest production from London Classic Theatre is Faith Healer by Brian Friel. Set in the 1950s across 3 countries, Wales, Scotland and Ireland (which gives them each plenty of local place names to get to grips with!) , it recounts the story of Frank - a Faith Healer - or con artist, you decide - who travels to small villages with his "manager" Teddy and wife Grace - or is that his mistress? - and they are the lookout for the sick, the suffering and the desperate. Easy prey, in other words.
This is a story told by three actors (Paul Carroll, Jonathan Ashley and Gina Costigan) independently of each other, with each one providing a monologue to describe events and in doing so presenting different versions of the same thing which are often completely contradictory. Did Grace have a baby in the back of their van as Teddy recalls or was she barren as Frank informs us? Did Teddy really have a whippet which played the bagpipes and a girl on his roster who could speak to 120 pigeons? Does Frank actually have the gift to enable him to "cure" more than half a dozen people of their ailments in a single sitting? Probably not is the answer to that but 20 years after the events took place, each character seems convinced by their recollections and their version of how things happened.
Both Grace and Teddy have a monologue each detailing their memories whilst Faith Healer Frank (Francis Hardy or FH) has two, starting and ending the show and never is there any interaction between them. Individually, they remain focussed on talking directly to the audience as story tellers, walking around a stage which appears to be made up of the various countries they have travelled to and backed by a massive mirror wall. Apart from that, there are just some chairs and tables for drinks (Frank was a voracious drinker but curiously had none available to him on stage) and the cheap-looking "One night only" poster which would announce the show at each event.
All three give strong performances, given that all eyes are exclusively on each of them as they deliver their monologue, and they are following the likes of Ken Stott, Geraldine James, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Sheen and David Threlfall who have all acted in the play. This production continues LCT's tradition of bringing high quality shows to Malvern.
Stage Talk - Tony Clarke
It is now over forty years since Brian Friel penned “Faith Healer”, yet it remains a popular and important play, exploring as it does themes of truth, identity and storytelling. Voted as one of the 100 most significant plays of the twentieth century in a poll conducted by the Royal National Theatre, it is also one of the “40 best plays of all time”, according to The Independent. Its reputation therefore is unquestioned. But how relevant and resonant is this widely-acclaimed work for a 2023 audience…?
The show consists of four lengthy monologues, the first and last of which are delivered by Frank Hardy, the eponymous central character, with his long-suffering wife, Grace, and charismatic manager, Teddy, providing the other two. In a time when monologues as a form of artistic and theatrical expression are increasingly rare, this is an intense but very engaging exploration of how unreliable narrators can be, and how the truth can be malleable and fluid, depending on who is telling the tale.
Hardy’s opening monologue initially evokes our sympathy: here is a man reflecting wistfully on his “gift” – his supposed ability to heal the sick. His reminiscences hinge on three set pieces from Hardy’s life as he tours the sleepy backwaters of Wales and Scotland in the 1950s: a mass-healing of ten people in Wales, the tragic stillbirth of his only child in a remote but beautiful corner of northern Scotland, and an ill-fated return to his homeland of Ireland where he encounters members of a wedding party, with seismic consequences. However, the credibility of this divine blessing is open to question, as inconsistencies concerning his narrative begin to emerge, and we find ourselves wondering if even the “gift” itself is an illusion, the product of a beguiling and convincing monologue.
These doubts are further fuelled by Grace and Teddy’s contrasting versions of events, as we come to appreciate that none of these characters offers us any real objectivity. We see these same key episodes from three different perspectives as we are presented with the challenge of trying to work out for ourselves exactly what took place, piecing together the clues from three distinctly unreliable narrators.
The show is an intense and absorbing experience. Acting of the highest quality from Paul Carroll as Frank, Gina Costigan as Grace, and Jonathan Ashley as Teddy, means all three characters are wonderfully and charismatically realised. The staging is simple but highly effective: a fragmented floor seems to suggest the outlines of the three countries where the narratives are set, with a large mirror upstage not only reflecting the floor, but with its mottled and stained appearance, it also cleverly suggests the opaque and illusory nature of truth. Whilst none of the three characters interact with each other at any point in the play, despite sharing the stage through most of Act One, the mirror means we often see two sides to our characters, literally and metaphorically, further accentuating the play’s central themes. In addition, the use of lighting and shadow is highly effective, creatively and thoughtfully illuminating the three players at different points throughout. Technically, the staging and lighting is very simple, allowing us to focus without distraction on the intensity of the characters’ performances; the play is all the better for this.
London Classic Theatre have been producing critically-acclaimed shows for thirty years. “Faith Healer” is no exception. Artistic Director, Michael Cabot, and his creative team, deserve praise for reviving this deliciously dark drama, one which will have you pondering and questioning long after the deserved applause has faded.
A View from Behind the Arras - Emma Trimble
A collection of sublime monologues begins with the Fantastic Faith Healer himself, Frank Hardy (Paul Carroll).
Hardy’s charismatic rendition of events as he recounts his journey around England and Wales, ending in his homeland of Ireland, keeps you intrigued and sceptical to his supposed healing talents.
Next to centre stage is wife, Grace (Gina Costigan) as she displays her devotion to the cause and the hardships with all the ups and downs to boot. The marital bubble seemingly close to bursting with lots of hot air pushing at the membrane holding the delicacies all together with a fragility as everything floats in the balance and drifts on the slipstream.
The second Act introduces the dazzling Cockney, belting out the baritone, that is, manager Teddy (Jonathan Ashley) who holds everything together and the love for his clients keeps the business travelling its course with a few unexplained miracles along the way.
A captivating tale, such is life, with its roundabouts and swings and the final conclusion only leaves you wanting more, especially more about the bagpipe-playing whippet.
The set and costume director Bek Palmer, cleverly reflects the broken Kingdom that helped weave the broken promises and characters together across troubled waters, with a darkness that allows the dialogue to shine.
Following the recent success of an awkward polyester soiree with Mike Leigh’s 1977 comedy Abigail’s Party in July, London Classic Theatre now brings Faith Healer across the UK this autumn, directed by Michael Cabot, also the founder and director of LCT.
Award-winning Irish playwright Brian Friel (1929-2015) wrote more than thirty plays across six decades with major works including Dancing at Lughnasa, Molly Sweeney, Philadelphia, Here I Come and Translations.
Do you believe in miracles? See it to believe it with Faith Healer this week at Malvern Theatres until Saturday September 23rd, with tickets costing from £8.96 up to £31.92 and matinees on Wednesday and Saturday. For more information visit malvern-theatres.co.uk or call the box office on 01684 892277. After Malvern from 26th to 27th September it will be at The Theatre Chipping Norton.
As we sat amongst the scandalously small audience of about 30 people it only added to the small-town small-venue atmosphere that the play itself invokes. Incredible, virtuoso performances from the small cast of three whose monologues carry this wonderful play.
One of the finest pieces of work I have had the privilege to watch in Malvern… I would have happily applauded for several minutes! Go and see it if you can!