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Faith Healer Written by Brian Friel at Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

You may be tempted to think, as I was, that there might be a bit of razzmatazz in a show called Faith Healer – the sort of thing in the music video of the Genesis song ‘Jesus He Knows Me’. But rather than flashy extracts of the healing meetings held by Frank (Declan Conlon), the play is far more reflective, giving the audience four long monologues, two in each act, The first and last are given by Frank, the second by Grace (Justine Mitchell), Frank’s wife, and the third by Teddy (Nick Holder), Frank’s stage manager.

Declan Conlon in Faith Healer - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre (c) Marc Brenner.
Declan Conlon in Faith Healer – Lyric Hammersmith Theatre (c) Marc Brenner.

Frank appeared to tour sacred as well as secular venues, although it was in a church that the most significant ‘healings’ (inverted commas mine) took place, and having three people give their version of events provides the audience with multiple perspectives. It does not, perhaps deliberately, quite resolve the issue of the unreliable narrator – if anything, it compounds the problem, because it’s difficult if not impossible to ascertain beyond reasonable doubt which version is definitive, if any.

The show is not, because of the distinct recollections and the characters’ distinct personalities, dull and repetitive, although it has quite a calm and reflective nature. The staging is kept relatively sparse, with only what is necessary on stage, and Anna Clock’s compositions and sound design complement rather than detract from the performances. Teddy is, as one might expect from an event promoter, gregarious and forthright. That said, neither Frank nor Grace themselves beat around the bush much, if at all, and it was almost always clear, at least to me, what they were talking about, even if they seemed to go off-topic momentarily.

One has to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate everything going on – this is raw and dense storytelling, without frivolities or asides to lighten the mood. I warmed to Frank quite quickly, I think because of his acceptance early on in the play that he hadn’t cured everyone who asked for his assistance – indeed, there were far more people, by his own admission, that went away uncured than who could claim substantial and immediate improvement to their physical health. All three characters had their doubts, and it is something of a miracle (sorry) that Frank toured Wales and Scotland for as long and as extensively as he did as a ‘faith healer’, given his own insecurities.

Grace’s monologue ends with an acknowledgement that she continues to need Frank, and indeed there is a mutual dependency between the trio. The monologues, upon reflection, make it clear what happens to Frank in the end but the play’s final lines suggest that the audience is invited to fill in the gaps with regards to the specifics. With zero dialogue or even non-verbal interaction between characters, it’s a different theatrical experience to almost all other three-handers out there. And why not? Some shows have a lot of exposition, which exposes how little dramatisation there is. This one is wholly expository, and it works. An intense and rewarding production, best enjoyed by those who don’t mind a good story getting in the way of the truth.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Trawling through the remote and lonely villages of Wales and Scotland is, The Fantastic Frank Hardy, who for one night only promises miracle cures for the sick and the suffering. He might just be more showman than shaman but… the promise of the impossible is irresistible.

But it’s Frank’s shapeshifting gift and proclamations that bring him into conflict with his wife Grace and manager Teddy. As they each recount their lives together, they unveil a well of fractured memories.

Lyric Hammersmith Theatre presents
Faith Healer
Written by Brian Friel. Directed by Rachel O’Riordan.
14 Mar – 13 Apr 2024
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre Tickets

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