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A CurtainUp London Review
Faith Healer
"Aberarder, Aberayron,
Llangranog, Llangurig,
Abergorlech, Abergynolwyn,
Llandefeilog, Llanerchymedd,
Aberhosan, Aberporth. . .
All those dying Welsh villages.
— Frank
Stephen Dillane as Frank Hardy (Photo: (Johan Persson)
Brian Friel's play is extra-special, a moment in the theatre that you are unlikely to ever forget. It is comprised of four monologues from three characters but the resulting drama is far more portentous and dramatic that you might think possible from single people on the stage at any one time.

The play starts with Stephen Dillane as the eponymous faith healer Frank Hardy, an Irishman with the gift of the gab as well as the celebrated ability to heal the sick. He tells you that he is the seventh son of a seventh son and then tells you it is a lie. His lies are convincing. His describes his "gift" as a craft without an apprenticeship, a ministry without responsibility. The craft is healing, the ministry is the faith.

Es Devlin's stage is set by a four sided curtain of silver rain, relentless, beautiful and relaxing before the play begins and in-between scenes. Dillane intones the Welsh villages of places visited, their names like poetry. His eyes are shut as he lyrically recalls those long forgotten places. We meet the other two characters first through Frank's monologue. They are Grace who he describes as his mistress and the faith healing show's manager Teddy. Dillane's imitations of Teddy's cockney stand up outpourings are to die for.

This play is of superb word pictures from the most talented of playwrights. Friel's words are evocative and richly redolent of this travelling trio to the outer places of the United Kingdom and Southern Ireland. We hear from Frank about the place in a Welsh village where he healed ten people in one session. Franks touches on a place in Scotland Kinlochbervie in Sutherland, about as far north as you can go on the mainland, with its view of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides but it is only later that we are told the full significance of this place.

Gina McKee's Grace seems straight laced and up tight. She has a wounded air of regret and sorrow. Her memories of Kinlochbervie could not be more different from Frank's as she describes the loss there which deeply affected her. She is pictured in a small flat with the ironing board and iron. She tells of of her estrangement from her family after giving up her life as a solicitor and daughter of a judge to follow Frank Hardy, the faith healer or charlatan in the eyes of her judgmental father who also happens to be a high court judge. She talks about her love for Frank and her health. By the end of Gina McKee's time on stage as Grace we are examining the events as "her truth" and "his truth".

Monologue Three is Teddy, Ron Cook the Cockney manager. No litany of place names for him; that would not be his style at all. Instead he tells us about the ten people cured in the Welsh village church. "As long as men live in Glamorganshire Mr Hardy, they will remember you," he recalls telling Frank. Ron's descriptions fill in the gaps in the two earlier monologues. His account is often amusing as he extracts the maximum humour from the quirkiness of the events but also gives us another perspective on what went on between Frank and Grace.

Finally we return to Frank as he talks about the night he was called on to cure a crooked finger as the sinister crowd gathered in Ballybeg. Frank talks about Grace's father, quoting the judge as saying, "You implicated my child in your career of chicanery!"

It is the audience that has gone on this journey with these three. Stephen Dillane is one of the greatest actors of his generation and his Frank Hardy is attractive and deceptive. His gift comes with drawbacks. This is a five star production of an involving and poetic play which will haunt you.

For more about Brian Friel and links to other productions of this and his other plays we've reviewed, see our Brian Friel Backgrounder

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Faith Healer
Written by Brian Friel
Directed by Lyndsey Turner
Starring: Stephen Dillane, Gina McKee, Ron Cook
Design: Es Devlin
Composer: Rupert Cross
Lighting Design: Bruno Poet
Sound Design: Christopher Shutt
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624
Booking to 20th August 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 29th June 2016 performance at the Donmar Warehouse, Earldom street, London WC2 (Tube: Covent Garden/Leicester Square)

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