Faith Healer – Abbey Theatre – Review
An Abbey Theatre production: Faith Healer by Brian Friel
Dates: 3 December 2021 – 22 January on the Abbey stage
Photos by Ros Kavanagh
Francis Hardy (Aidan Gillen) is a Faith Healer. He’s a man with a gift but an unpredictable one. He’s racked with insecurities about what he is capable of, but they’ll never take away that night in Wales where he cured ten people in one night. At other times, he feels like a charlatan, taking people’s money and offering nothing in return. Francis, his wife Grace (Niamh Cusack) and their tour manager Teddy (Nigel Lindsay) travel around, appearing ‘for one night only’ in local towns and villages. We hear about their memories of life on the road together.
This play is told as a series of monologues, with each character telling their version of events. We hear snippets of the same stories from all three cast members with subtle differences between each. Is it simply how fallible memory can be over time or is there something more mischievous at play? Have they changed the story to cast themselves in a better light? Friel plays with the idea of the unreliable narrator and the audience is left to make up their own minds on whose version of events to believe.
The play was written by Brian Friel and first performed in Boston in 1979. It is widely acknowledged to be one of Friel’s finest works and is often included on lists of the greatest plays of the 20th century. The Gate Theatre’s production from 2006 starred Ralph Fiennes in the lead role and introduced many to the play.
The stage design by John Lee Beatty is deceptively simple, with a wood-panelled backdrop for all three settings. A collection of old chairs sit on one side of the stage and a banner proclaiming the arrival of the Faith Healer hangs over the proceedings. A section of the floor slides to make subtle scene changes introducing the characters and parts of their world. For Grace, it becomes a kitchen space and for Teddy, it’s a comfortable sitting room, but the action mainly takes place in the minds and memories of the characters.
Niamh Cusack impresses as Grace, a brittle, damaged woman who is struggling to survive. She is haunted by images of her past life. Nigel Lindsay arrives after the interval with an injection of comedy, drawing out the natural humour in the text and adding more through his delivery. He bounces around the stage with a brash and amiable performance as Teddy. The most difficult part is reserved for Aidan Gillen as Francis, who carries the bulk of the storytelling as the troubled soul Francis. He’s a man who struggles with alcoholism and the intricacies of his ‘gift’.
The cast does a fine job of inhabiting these complex characters, drawing out subtle differences from previous productions. Director Joe Dowling has allowed the fine text to stand front and centre. The play took a rather circuitous route, as it was originally scheduled to open on the 30th of March, 2020, but due to the pandemic, its opening night was postponed. We are now lucky enough to have the chance to see this production and to celebrate one of Ireland’s finest playwrights.
Grace: Niamh Cusack
Frank Hardy: Aidan Gillen
Teddy: Nigel Lindsay
Writer: Brian Friel
Director: Joe Dowling
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Joan O’Clery
Lighting Design: Sinéad McKenna
Composer : Carl Kennedy
Sound Design: Derek Conaghy
Voice Director: Andrea Ainsworth