Saturday, 5 November 2016

Faith Healer, Belvoir

Brian Friel's three-hander has gradually emerged into a modern classic - originally a flop on Broadway (due partially to star casting and nepotistic casting, as James Mason insisted his wife, Clarissa Kaye, perform the only female role), it's grown in reputation since, with several revivals. A series of connected monologues (with one performer doing the first and last monologues and the other two covering off the middle) about, as the title suggests, a travelling faith healer, his partner and his manager, their travails on the road and the events that divided them, it offers three distinctly different perspectives on the same events, as well as three great roles for actors to get stuck into.

I'll be honest and say this is more a "bravura acting display" than necessarily a play I take to my heart - the story, such as it is, feels a tad familiar with not many new insights into faith or relationships, although Friel shares most Irish playwrights talents with writing dialogue that drips with poetry. As has been noted previously, I'm not necessarily entirely in love with poetry on stage that doesn't also serve plot - and that this is a personal thing, not necessarily a "this is what makes great art for everyone" rule.

Colin Friels dominates as Frank, the titular healer, with a gentle charm and a slightly mystic way about him (I've often seen Friels as a fairly meat-and-potatoes actor, it's good to see some of his gentler angles). Alison Whyte as his erstwhile wife-or-possibly-mistress is heartrending as she tells of their troubled relationship, full of losses and estrangements and occasional romance. And Pip Miller as the manager is simultaneously scuzzy and certifiably moving as the man who watched over both of them but was always ended up on the sidelines.

Brian Thompson's set, Tess Schoeflield's costumes and Verity Hampson keep this minimal-yet strangely eternal - the platform-with-clouds behind it changes aspects as the lights change, allowing it to reflect the emotional transitions. Judy Davis' direction has a direct no-bullshit style about it - this is all about the actors and the words, and she keeps the focus very strongly there.

This is a case where I think this is a great vehicle but not necessarily a great play, except that the performances don't come from nothing so clearly there is something in the material that I can't quite get my head around yet. So it's worth seeing for the performances.

No comments:

Post a Comment