Tuesday, May 28

Faith Healer – Lyric Hammersmith

This season the Lyric in Hammersmith are showcasing some of the best classic pieces of British and Irish Theatre for modern audiences. Faith Healer was written by Brian Friel in the 1970s and will appeal mostly to audience’s who lived through or understand the political context of the time. Rachel O’Riordan’s direction is imaginative and powerful use of spacing helps to lift moments in this play. However, the stream of consciousness nature of the monologues in the play could lose some audience members. The key flaw here being that this is a play from another Era and audiences today will only give an awkward chuckle to moments that would have initially intended to fill a room with hysteria. Nonetheless, as Rachel O’Riordan describes ‘some of the best British and Irish talent around’ have been cast into Faith Healer, so that audience members can enjoy the moments of the play that do still resonate today and overlook the parts that have not aged well.

Faith Healer explores the life of Francis Hardy and the impact he has on the people close to him. The play explores the power of faith in the process of healing. Each of the characters go through their stories of Frank’s interactions with people that are in dire need of help. The play explores the scepticism surrounding Frank’s powers. There are some harrowing moments and descriptions within this play that are described so vividly by the actors that the show could have had a few more trigger warnings. The audience is intentionally placed in an uncomfortable position to consider each of these situations, which leads to further discussion on the role of religion in society. Whilst Brain Friel’s play could seem outdated to some audience members, I’d strongly recommend anyone with an interest in the politics of the late 1900’s should see this show.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Declan Conlon does an excellent job of keeping Frank’s energy subdued, to show that he is no longer the charming charismatic powerful healer that the other characters describe. I appreciated the energy shift as Justine Mithcell burst onto stage as Grace. Grace is deeply affected by her relationship with Frank, and Justine does an excellent job with her mannerisms to portray a broken woman. Nick Holder is a natural storyteller and had the audience following his journey well. Nick used his pacing well to help illuminate the shifts in tension in the writing.

Colin Richmond’s set design was purposeful and intentional. I particularly enjoyed the use of colour on the cracked wall to represent different moments in the play. Look out for the stage too! At first it looks just like a normal raked stage, but the upstage right corner is peeling away like there is something underneath. Both these elements come together well to represent the facade of faith healing.

Anna Clock’s sound design helps to create an ominous atmosphere. During the ominous moments the actors come into centre stage and a monotonal beat can be heard underneath their speaking. These two effects together helped the script to resonate powerfully at key moments during the play.

The huge challenge with this play is pacing. This is an intentional ploy in the writing to show the contrast between the characters and to build up the tension to pivotal moments. In a small studio space this would work effectively with the actors giving good eye contact to the audience members to keep them onboard with the slower moments of the play, but on stage in a huge theatre more work needs to go into lifting these slower moments. Different use of space and levels would really help to achieve this effectively.  Rachel O’Riordan has risen to the ambitious challenge of bringing a play that was written 50 years ago to modern audiences. There is not enough detail on the historical context within this play to open this play up to audiences who know nothing of the period. However, this may be of taste to audience members who lived through the period, who have experienced the darker side of faith healing or who have a curiosity in recent history.

Faith Healer showcases some incredible talent both on and off the stage. The cast of incredible actors do a fine job of connecting with the audience and using their realistic style to make key moments in the storytelling harrowing. Colin Richmond’s set design is outstanding and innovative. Rachel O’Riordan is clearly a talented director and has made some fantastic choices in putting together this piece of theatre. I’m excited to see how this work could continue to develop and grow to suit different spaces and to see if anything creative could be done to wider the appeal to audiences.

Playing until 13th April, https://lyric.co.uk/shows/faith-healer/

Reviewer: Jennifer Laishley

Reviewed: 20th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.