The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Theatre Summer 2016
The Irish love to talk, and so it is little surprise that a whole genre of Irish drama is built on single or multiple monologues.
Brian Friel's 1979 contribution to the genre is made up of four monologues by three characters (one getting a second turn) that not only combine and interweave to tell a story but offer insights into the way the past can become a fictional construct depending on what people choose to, or allow themselves to, remember.
And through the way the playwright makes us select and correct from the varying versions of the story we are told, he guides us to know the three characters better than they know themselves.
The title character opens and closes the evening. He's a small-time semi-conman who travels the smallest villages of Wales and Scotland (the English being too unimaginative ) with his female companion and manager-driver, holding services and living off what's in the collection plate.
Though never quite sure whether he has an actual gift or is a total fraud, he does have enough self-awareness to spot the ironies both comic – the music played as he heals is 'Just The Way You Look Tonight' – and sad – he senses that the lame and sick do not come to him with hope, but wishing for him to fail and thus relieve them of the burden of hope.
We have every reason to believe everything he tells us until a brief blackout is followed by the soliloquy of the woman.
Not having heard what he said, she quietly corrects some of his casual lies – she's his wife, not his mistress – and more telling omissions – a minor incident in his account ignored or repressed the fact that it held a tragedy that was traumatic to her and should have been to him.
Suddenly we're in the realm of asking what is truth and what it says about each speaker that they give partial and conflicting accounts.
The pattern continues when the manager gets his turn, and in turn not only corrects some things we heard before but exposes something about himself that redefines much of what went before.
The story that drives the action forward leads to a specific event that all three speakers (and the healer when he returns for his second monologue) feel their accounts moving toward and do everything they can – interrupting, digressing, circling back to earlier topics – to avoid reaching.
We can guess, and are meant to guess what it is long in advance because it itself is less important than what we learn about all three characters from watching their evasions.
Faith Healer is both comic and moving as a human drama and fascinating as exploration of both the process of memory and the ways character is exposed as much by what is not said as by what is.
Lyndsay Posner's direction guides the actors to find all the humour while allowing the psychological insights and darker emotions to slip out without unnecessary emphasis or underlining.
The performances of Stephen Dillane (healer), Gina McKee (wife) and Ron Cook (manager) are, as we have come to expect of all three, impeccable and beyond criticism.
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