Emma Sorensen

Faith Healer is the first in a trio of plays by Irish playwright Brian Friel, being performed by the Gate Theatre Dublin at NIDA’s Parade Theatre.
Faith Healer is the first in a trio of plays by Irish playwright Brian Friel, being performed by the Gate Theatre Dublin at NIDA’s Parade Theatre. The plays, part of the Sydney Festival, are being performed in honour of Friel’s 80th birthday, and are brought to us in association with Culture Ireland. Friel began his career as a school teacher before pursuing his second career as one of Ireland’s most prolific and acclaimed playwrights. He also spent a period in the 1980s spent as a member of the Irish Senate. Faith Healer had its first performance in 1979 on Broadway. It follows Francis Hardy, an itinerant faith healer, as he returns to his homeland in Ireland after years touring Scotland and Wales. The play is told in four intense, half hour monologues from his wife Grace and his manager Teddy, bookended by Francis himself. It’s a sad, cyclical tale about a way of life now mostly vanished, and an Ireland now mostly confined to the history books. This means there is something a little dated about the play’s thematic preoccupations with death and destiny. But there is also something a little tired about the play’s structure, with the same story told from three perspectives. The story’s repetitiveness allows room for a few obvious comic scenes where characters recount different versions of the same events, before the audience is steered back to the play’s dour path. Dublin’s Gate Theatre has a strong reputation and was behind the play’s most recent revival directed by Jonathan Kent and performed on Broadway. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Cherry Jones and Ian McDiarmid the Broadway revival received four Tony Award nominations and Ian McDiarmid won one for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Sydney might not have attracted the same all-star cast but it hasn’t missed out as Ingrid Craigie, Kim Durham and Owen Roe give very strong performances and prove to be the most outstanding element of the production. The Parade Theatre is a proper grown up space – vast, tall and modern – and the play could have done with a smaller, more intimate venue like the Wharf or Belvoir Street. A setting less formal and more like the derelict church halls Francis performed his faith healing in could have drawn the audience closer into the dingy drama, and made it more memorable. Faith Healer is Chekhov-like in its bleakness, so it’s no surprise that Friel’s later plays, Afterplay and The Yalta Game, also appearing as part of the festival, live out his fascination with the Russian author’s characters. Faith Healer, Afterplay and The Yalta Game will be performed at the Parade Theatre, NIDA, until 1 February, as part of the Sydney Festival.

About the author

Emma Sorensen is a freelance writer and editor. She was previously Editor of Arts Hub UK. She has a background in literature and new media, having worked as an editor and commissioning editor in book publishing, as well as with websites and magazines in the UK and Australia.