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Faith Healer

Published 29 June 2016

What’s it all about?

Roll up, roll up, come and see the… well, quite shabby Frances Hardy, in truth. This revival of Brian Friel’s play of devotion is set in an unspecified period of time after Hardy’s heyday as the titular Faith Healer, and details the recollections of a travelling Irish showman with an unpredictable gift and his long-suffering but loving entourage, whose fortunes hang on his inexplicable abilities.

Accounts from Hardy’s neglected but tragically devoted wife, Grace, and his wheeler-dealer cockney manager, Teddy, sandwich Frank’s own brutal confessions of obfuscated self-purpose. With each character’s accounts returning to several defining events, new licks of detail are supplied – as well as small inconsistencies in memory – in a powerfully direct display of storytelling.

Who’s in it?

Take your pick from the stage and screen star trio, all veterans of the Donmar and, accordingly, masterfully engaging in the intimate space. Game Of Thrones star Stephen Dillane is enrapturing as Frank, glint firmly in eye as he surveys the audience before him, dominant and ready to “perform”. Gina McKee’s gauntly tender Grace, having bared the brunt of Frank’s mercurial temperament over the years, speaks with a bitter edge, fiercely conveying a lifetime of pain with staggering rawness.

But it is Ron Cook, reprising his role as Frank’s shrewd manager Teddy, who steals the limelight and places the audience firmly in the palm of his hand with a warmly humorous performance, before plunging them sharply into the tragedy of his motivations and shocking regrets.

What should I look out for?

Yet another extraordinary feat of stage design by Es Devlin in covering the show’s scene transitions. Making use of rain pouring forth from the heavens like a British summertime, and with a black shroud backdrop concealing the stage, the immediacy with which they then seemingly vanish into thin air to illuminate a newly-set location – a stage, a kitchen and a lounge – is a jaw-dropping, seemingly miraculous, effect.

In a nutshell?

Intensely compelling, Faith Healer’s three fine solo storytelling performances are entrancing and uplifting. 

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Will I like it?

If you’ve ever been told a story – maybe under the moonlight, or under the covers safe in bed – you might recall the childlike sense of wonder that accompanies it, the spiritually uplifting feeling of reliving memories through their possessor’s words alone.

A masterclass in solo acting, Faith Healer is a beautifully touching and rewarding production, despite the coldness of the lives recalled in it. This is pure, unfiltered, almost quiet, theatre, and it’s subsequently rife with that very sense of awe and majesty.

Faith Healer plays at the Donmar Warehouse until 20 August. You can book tickets through the venue’s website.

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