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Review: Finding the truth in Faith Healer, Donmar Warehouse

Faith-Healer-Background-1300x500-2016-updateThe small stage at the Donmar Warehouse is veiled with a curtain of pouring rain, similar to the torrential down pours we've had recently. The rain stops and the stage is revealed for what will be the first of four monologues that make up Brian Friel's play Faith Healer.

It reminded me of driving on a motorway in heavy rain and those brief moments of respite when you pass under a bridge. It is an appropriate image for a play that sees three people telling the same story; they all end up at the same point in the narrative but take different paths to get there.

Frank Hardy (Stephen Dillane) is a faith healer travelling the remote corners of the British Isles with his wife Grace (Gina McKee) and manager Teddy (Ron Cooke). Frank starts the story telling us about a night in a rural pub in his native Ireland and then rewinding to what led them there. Grace follows with her story and then Teddy, finishing with Frank who concludes the story of the night in the pub.

What you get is different versions and different perspectives - some very different perspectives - and Friel leaves you to pick over the different narratives to determine what actually happened and the nature of each of the characters.

Frank has doubts about his skills as a faith healer and yet both Grace and Teddy seem to testify to his having 'something' - there was that one occasion where he 'cured' 10 people. Teddy refers to it as a talent - he has a history of managing obscure acts such as Rob Roy, the bagpipe playing whippet - and theorises about the nature of true talent, true genius. Both he and Grace are drawn to Frank, he has an easy charm, even though he doesn't always come across as the nicest of people.

Grace talks about Frank creating a fiction around the people that come to him to be healed and the 'characters' only living on in his memory if he is successful. It works as a metaphor for the art of creative writing: if you are successful your characters will come to life, will live on. Frank also creates a fiction around himself - he tells people Grace is his mistress rather than his wife, for example.

He is a man that is grasping, groping for something intangible in his life. He seems to be searching for a feeling, an emotion, a sense of something that is missing. Friel leaves you to decide whether he is successful in finding it or not.

The monologue style of the plays is challenging - I couldn't help wishing to see what the three characters would be like if they were interacting - but ultimately rewarding. Friel's language is rich and the production rewards with three very different performances. Stephen Dillane's Frank is sardonic, contemplative, almost melancholy drowning his inner conflict and doubt with alcohol. Gina McKee's Grace is intelligent and resolved but has lightness and determination. And Ron Cooke's Teddy is a witty and lively raconteur with amusing tales of whistling dolphins and yet he is the only one that can fully describe the aftermath of certain tragic events.

Faith Healer is on at the Donmar Warehouse until August 20 and is two hours and 20 minutes including an interval. I'm giving it four stars.

Other Brian Friel plays I've seen and my thoughts:

Philadelphia Here I Come, Donmar Warehouse

Fathers and Sons (after the Turgenev novel), Donmar Warehouse - which reminds me, when is Seth Numrich coming back to the London stage?