Faith Healer

Faith Healer Adelaide 2018A Belvoir production presented by State Theatre Company. Space Theatre. 28 Sep 2018

 

Directed by Australian stage luminary Judy Davis, this production has been highly anticipated, coming as it does with a wake of glowing reviews from its runs in the Eastern States.

 

It stars Davis’s husband, the very distinguished Colin Friels, along with award-winning actress Alison Whyte and Adelaide’s most beloved actor, Paul Blackwell, an impressive line-up.

 

The play, written by the late Irish playwright Brian Friel, is a tough call for actors and audiences because it consists of a series of intense monologues through which three characters tell of the same experiences from their different perspectives.

 

It is presented in The Space on a raised corner stage wrapped in a splendour of clouds by way of Brian Thompson’s very elegant set. Light in the clouds changes according to the dynamics of the narrative. It is a beautiful, subtle and effective device.

 

Friels appears as Frank Hardy, an Irish conman, who travels Ireland, Scotland and Wales performing miracle cures. Squeezed into a scruffy and ill-fitting old suit, he tells of his travels, of the country halls and highways, the hopeful believers and the towns, the towns, the towns. He rolls endless inscrutable Celtic place names off the tongue as his traveller’s mantra.

His accent is an Irish meld with a hint of the north.

 

Friels is a joy to watch. Director Davis would seem to be keeping this character constrained to underplay, but Friels’ every physical movement has extraordinary timing and finesse.

 

Whyte, with a shock of unruly red hair, depicts his wife Grace looking back on the Faith Healer’s travelling heydays from a grim little London flat years later. She’s a broken woman, drinking herself to death and reminiscing about her fall from an educated background, disgraced by marrying this “mountebank”. She loved him so and tied herself to his crooked path. He had such charm and charisma, but often it was not for her. She did as he bade, even when it meant never mentioning the gut-wrenching stillbirth of their premature child out in the fields somewhere.

 

Teddy, the faith-healer show’s dogsbody promoter and factotum, describes this tragedy in harrowing detail. Paul Blackwell, with his impeccable eye for comic nuance, brings Teddy to vivid, loveable life. He’s slugging down beers, philosophising about “talent" and telling of the good old travelling-showbiz days: the woman with 200 performing pigeons, and his own wonderful bagpipe-playing whippet. Teddy’s third-party account puts into context the story versions as told by the oft-quarrelling husband and wife. He’s both entertaining and, in the end of the day, oh, so heartbreaking.

 

This production is very sleek and aesthetic but in the proportions of The Space, one wishes that the action could come down stage a little more. Perhaps it would be good to see the play in a more intimate space.

 

But it is a powerful and brave piece of theatre about the different ways people share the same experiences and the svelte professionalism of its presentation was met with serious approbation by its Adelaide opening night audience.

 

Samela Harris

 

When: 28 Sep to 13 Oct

Where: Space Theatre

Bookings: bass.net.au

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