Faith Healer (Donmar Warehouse)

On the surface, Faith Healer is a simple play.

Three narrators — Frank, an itinerant “faith healer”; his wife, Grace; and his manager, Teddy — address us directly, and separately, recalling their shabby lives on the road. But their recollections differ: subtly, slightly, sometimes substantially. Friel gently unpicks the certainties of memory and the solidity of truth, all the while circling three key moments in their lives. It has the grip of a detective story and into it all Friel pours the human yearning for faith and for wholeness, the role of narrative — in life, in law, in art — and the essential loneliness of experience.

The play is also very much about theatre and the interplay between creation and belief. Frank’s insecurity about his strange and elusive gift — was he a miracle-worker or a conman? — is infused with the anxieties of the artist. The piece itself exists in some timeless no man’s land (eloquently suggested here by designer Es Devlin’s curtain of rain between monologues); it demands, like the faith healer, the suspension of disbelief and it relies entirely on three superb performances. These it gets in Lyndsey Turner’s delicate, beautifully acted staging. Stephen Dillane’s Frank, with his shaggy beard, could be a vagrant wandering the Irish countryside or an Old Testament prophet, but he stands before us in a tired old suit. He’s a compelling storyteller, hooking you in with his soft-spoken, self-deprecating delivery, but there’s a hint of hardness there too.

It’s in Gina McKee’s quiet, undemonstrative performance as Grace that we see the price of that: behind all her tidy demeanour is a deeply damaged woman breaking down. And in Ron Cook’s excellent turn as Teddy, a dapper little cockney showman, whose twinkle and tall tales can’t quite cover up his emptiness. In the end, it is in the telling of their story and in being heard that all three find solace — which perhaps turns us, briefly, into the healers.

To August 20,


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