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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Donmar Warehouse


  Stephen Dillaine/ Ph: Johan Persson

Brian Friel worked magic with words, and in Lyndsey Turner’s haunting, hypnotic revival of Faith Healer, they cast a spell that’s hard to shake off.
First performed in 1979, Friel’s three-character play is a series of four monologues about an Irish faith healer, his wife and his loyal manager. They spend 20 years traveling around the tiny villages of Scotland and Wales, with Frank attempting to cure the sick and frail. Sometimes he’s successful, but most of the time he fails.
The idea of failing, of holding on to a fading hope, courses through the play and becomes especially poignant thanks to the performances of stellar actors Stephen Dillane, Gina McKee and Ron Cook. As faith healer Frank Hardy, whose monologues open and close the play, Dillane questions his ability as he recounts the fateful night his character finally returned to Ireland after years of self-exile.
When we meet Grace (McKee), she’s living in a small London flat, coping with a kind of PTSD now that her life with Frank is over, but still devoted to him. Teddy (Cook), also in London, mourns the loss of the family unit the three shared.
The intimate Donmar Warehouse space, with seating on three sides of the stage, is a perfect fit for such a confessional play. The actors are so close that it feels as if they could very well be talking directly to you. That makes the performances especially affecting, because what characters don’t say – where they pause and where their voice trails off – registers with as much force as what they do.
“They knew in their hearts they had come not to be cured but for confirmation that they were incurable,” Frank says of his sickly clientele. "Not for hope but for the elimination of hope.” Elimination of hope is just what the characters are experiencing. Dillane deftly conveys Frank’s weariness without turning him into a melancholy creature, and Cook uses welcome humor to shade Teddy’s pangs of loss. It’s McKee who delivers the most enthralling performance, as Grace tries to remain calm while telling the story of her stillborn child.
Friel could be writing about the plight of the artist or the plight of all humanity, and the love that keeps us soldiering on. It’s all handled with care by Turner and company, framed by designer Es Devlin’s curtain of rain, which beats down around the stage before the show and between scenes. Like Faith Healer, it’s both forlorn and beautiful.


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