Monday, August 29, 2011

Town Hall Theatre Galway, ‘Faith Healer’: Testimonies

Town Hall Theatre, Galway
Aug 25-Sept 3

My review of the Town Hall’s production of Faith Healer by Brian Friel coming up just as soon as I measure my progress by the number of hours I sleep and the amount I drink and the number of cigarettes I smoke ...

How appropriate is it that after a summer festival circuit dominated by shows with singular voices that the Town Hall close the season with a tour of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer. Enda Walsh, Cillian Murphy, Neil Watkins, Paul Reid, and Pat Kinevane all possibly drew inspiration at some point from this tour-de-text. What exactly characterises a one-person show as a monologic play though? Blockbusters such as Misterman and Silent had a lone performer’s voice but they also had athleticism and choreography. Faith Healer usually bets its cards on its articulation alone, and finding three performers who can mystify and enliven its discourse over the course of three hours must be one of the toughest casting jobs in the business.

A quartet of dispositions tell (?) the story of faith healer Frank Hardy and his travels with his wife Grace and manager Teddy. Frank appears to us first, a wisp of light illuminating his mouth as he speaks and gradually revealing his head then body. After reciting a list of dying Welsh villages that he has travelled to, he shares his fear of the power possessing him and his homecoming to Baile Beag after hearing in the town of Kinlochbervie that his mother had a heart attack. Grace then recounts both her love and hatred for her husband, revealing to us that Kinlochbervie was the site where her stillborn baby was born. Teddy describes his travels with the Hardys and Grace’s eventual suicide, leaving Frank devastated. A final testament by Frank tells us that Grace is in fact barren and suggests that the faith healer is about to meet his fate as he walks towards the cripple in the wheelchair he knows he cannot cure, meaning that he would have died before Grace as opposed to the events in Teddy’s version of events.

These stories don’t measure up, and in their contradictions we are left in an oratory where signs and certifications dissolve to fictions, reminding us that events are meaningful only insofar that they become stories.

This payoff depends on a strong and relatable engagement with the audience, and this production knows this but is trying too directly to pull it off. Andrew Flynn’s Faith Healer is too desperate for our sympathy here. Lalor Roddy is likeable in his soft-spoken rendition of Frank Hardy, his deliveries occasionally curious and enigmatic, but as he basks in his powerlessness our patience is strained. Ali White is guilty on the same charge, her Grace Hardy an irritating victim who lacks an earnestness to her hurt reality no matter how many cigarettes she lights or glasses of whisky she drinks.

Faith Healer is an incredibly dark affair, and while Frank and Grace perish in some fold of our imaginations I don’t buy their willingness to surrender so quick, as suggested in this production. What seems to be missing from these performances is a humour that reflects how these characters have lived roughly, spontaneously, and drunkenly; a humour which these characters’ pains can hide behind and occasionally peek as opposed to being harangued in plain sight. 

A cockney Rod Goodall though is the perfect match for Teddy and no doubt the highlight of the night, comically spelling out advice and unorthodoxy from various enterprise ventures. Goodall’s grasp of Teddy’s sentimentality is what hits home here, his eyes wonderstruck by show business, by Grace, and filled with tears by the sight of his friends in agony.

With the three-star rating that comes with the Faith Healer territory, this earns a one.

What did everybody else think?


  1. I agree with you Chris about Lalor and Ali's acting. Performance wise Rod was the highlight of the night! Faith Healer is a challenge for both director and actor to get it right as it totally breaks from Friel's norm. Audience members who dont know the script will get a shock to the system as they are more accustomed to Friel's Light heartness. Its def a show where you have to be in the humour to concentrate. Overall it was enjoyable

  2. Just saw it last night in Belfast - astounding, impeccable performances from all 4 actors - yes, 4 - the lighting was definitely a fourth actor. Great tribute to all actors, director and stage management. Lalor's performance was soulfull, reflective, ascerbic, and honest. He held the audience in the palms of his hand as he spun his magic. White's performance was outstanding as indeed was Goodall's. The actors were never solitary on the stage, the audience was always conscious of the others in the background, even if only one actor was actually on the stage. Signed Carricklass.