Tuesday, 14 July 1998

Faith Healer, July 13, 1998

Faith Healer by Brian Friel
Presented by The Old Van
 At The Shed VCA Dodds St. Sth Melbourne until August 2, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Reviewed around July 13, 1998

Who needs a design with everything that opens and shuts, elaborate lighting, digital sound and a ridiculous budget when you can see an impeccably written play performed by three remarkable local actors in a shed?

Fiona Blair's interpretation of Faith Healer by Brian Friel is such a production. The "shed" is a surprisingly warm and comfortable portable classroom in the grounds of the VCA. Even if it were not, this play would warrant enduring some discomfort.

Faith Healer uses the same narrative device as Friel's recent play, Molly Sweeney that had a stellar season for the MTC. Three characters speak in monologues. As their shared history unfolds, we become complicit in each one's version of the facts. Events and their relationships are coloured by their selective memories.

Irishman, Frank Hardy (Kurt Geyer), is a talented faith healer with a chequered record. He travels Scotland and Wales with his ex-lawyer wife, Grace (Jane Nolan) and his manager, the lovable ingenuous cockney, Teddy (Richard Bligh).

The trio bump about the drizzly countryside in a rattle-trap of a van fitted with a smelly primus stove, visiting remote villages and presenting healing as an almost vaudevillian revue to rival Teddy's previous client, Rob-Roy, the bag-piping whippet.

Several incidents are significant to all three. It takes two and a half riveting hours of intimate contact with Frank, Grace and Teddy for us to glean the truth about that village in the far north of Scotland where a baby is buried, that Fred Astaire number they used for openers and that fateful night in the pub in Ballybeg, Ireland

The marriage is fraught. Both Frank and Grace have abandoned their families only to attempt belated reconciliations. Frank lives in a fantasy world. Grace only wants devotion. Teddy stays twenty years on the road with them because he loves both too much. They are victims of themselves and each other. Artists should never marry. Says, Teddy. His whippet is proof positive.

Blair has focused on the text and the actor, which is the key to Friel's work. All three actors bring a detailed and intelligent eye to the script, bringing alive the sub-text. Geyer is charming as the charismatic, whiskey-soused Frank. Bligh is sweet and endearing as the poor doormat, Teddy. Jane Nolan is heart-rending as the shattered Grace measuring her progress by the hours she sleeps and the cigarettes she smokes.

British director, Peter Brook praises "Poor Theatre" This is.a prime example.


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