What: Faith Healer by Brian Friel
Who: Belvoir Street Theatre presented by State Theatre Company SA; directed by Judy Davis; starring Colin Friels, Paul Blackwell and Alison Whyte
When: 26 September – 13 October 2018
Where: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Do you believe in miracles? Faith Healer probably will not convince you that they exist, but it will make you think about the nature of fate and faith. This production from Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre, presented by State Theatre Company, opened last Thursday night to a warm audience response.
Faith Healer is known for its unusual narrative structure: each scene is a monologue. Three characters each deliver their own reflections on the same events, with the audience left to wonder who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth. The events in question take place when the three characters were touring the small towns of Wales and Scotland together, trying to make a living from miraculously healing the sick and injured – although, as the faith healer himself shrewdly notes, more often the afflicted visit him for confirmation that they are, in fact, beyond cure. Along the way they are confronted by births and deaths, miracles, violence, and existential anguish.
Colin Friels plays Francis Hardy, the titular faith healer; Alison Whyte is Grace, Frank’s wife or perhaps mistress; and State Theatre Company’s own Paul Blackwell appears as Teddy, Frank’s manager. All three actors delivered masterful performances, with Alison Whyte’s sensitive and layered portrayal of Grace’s pain particularly impressive and complemented by beautifully stark lighting. Paul Blackwell as Teddy brought a welcome dose of light-heartedness.
If I could describe this production of Faith Healer in one word, it would be sparse. There are only three characters, each of whom appears onstage completely alone and moves little in the course of their scene; the set is almost bare, with a backdrop of dreamy grey clouds and Frank’s faded banner hanging overhead; the soundscape mostly consists of subdued instrumental folk music and soft drumming; the costumes are rather drab, with only Alison Whyte’s striking red hair and Teddy’s jaunty bow tie to catch the eye. In the context of such visual and auditory subtlety, the production is forced to lean hard on its actors and script to capture and maintain the audience’s attention. The relatively intimate space of the Space Theatre brings the audience and actors close together and somewhat mitigates the bareness of the staging. Nevertheless, I found that the play sometimes dragged, especially in the first two scenes.
There is a good deal of humour woven throughout Faith Healer, which was much appreciated by the audience. Nevertheless, the bleakness of the central subject stayed with me after the applause had ended, as if the characters’ unhappiness was contagious. Frank is tormented by “questions” about the true nature of his unreliable ‘talent’, and this leads him to torment others around him. He seems to find his peace eventually, but at what cost?
3½ out of 5 stars