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Faith Healer | Lyric Hammersmith

Exceptional performances and subtle, naturalistic dialogue make this slow burn of monologues a stimulating evening of theatre. While initially unremarkable, the interwoven perspectives cleverly come together to result in a jaw-dropping climax that leaves a devastating punch, both intellectually and emotionally.

Much like the titular character, slow burns can be a test of an audience's faith, trusting the writer and actors to accumulate the piece with a satisfying resolution and sense of justification. Thankfully Brian Friel's book and the phenomenal trio on stage - Declan Conlon, Justine Mitchell, and Nick Holder - do just that, rewarding the audience with a reflective and challenging piece of theatre to a resounding pedigree. Essentially compromising of a series of four extended monologues, Faith Healer subtly explores perspective, belief, artistry and relationships through the retelling of several different events in the characters' lives.

While one may fear that hearing the same story told four times over could be somewhat mundane, the revealing ways in which the tales are retold are anything but, providing twists and questioning what the audience comes to believe to be true. Complimented by excellent direction by Rachel O'Riordan, this revival is proof of how effective minimalism and subtlety can be when staging such a well written text.

More than anything else, Friel's unconventional structure allows the cast to shine, and while for many, monologues of up to 45 minutes may pose to be a worrying endeavour, this tour-de-force trio of talent navigate the challenge with ease, commanding the stage and the attention of their audience. Each actor brings something refreshingly different to the piece: Conlon's Frank is a warm yet authoritative figure, engaging as one would expect a Faith Healer to be, yet revealing hidden insecurities and doubts beneath his impressive facade; Mitchell's Grace is heartbreakingly vulnerable and delivers the most moving performance of the night; Holder's Teddy provides the comic relief for the night, masquerading a broken and tired man underneath layers of entertainment. Between the three, the play manages to find its pacing in their emotional journey: while no action may occur, the exploration through their retellings is just as thrilling.

Filling the stage is a brilliantly sparse set by Colin Richmond, creating a space that feels aptly cold, waiting to be filled by the vivid personalities of the three characters. Paired with slight prop changes that exist to support the performances rather than distract, there's a remarkable sense of world building achieved through speech rather than visuals. Paul Keoghan compliments this with a lighting design that never demands attention, yet subconsciously reflects the warmth of happier memories, and stark harshness of others, working in tandem with Anna Clock's sound design and compositions that return sporadically to mark moments of heightened tension; here the production design exists not to dazzle the audience, but to bolden the brilliance of the text and performances, and achieves this with excellent impact.

While it may have initially flopped on Broadway, O'Riordan's brilliant reimagining of the 20th century classic proves and celebrates the transformative writing that Friel invites the audience to witness, creating a communal sense of heartbreak, tragedy and catharsis that is simultaneously intimate in scale, and spectacular in emotion. One can question whether one leaves the theatre feeling healed in their faith - I personally left feeling perfectly drained of optimism and joy - yet there in lies the beauty of the play: its ability to poignantly affect its audience and leave them questioning long after the well deserved standing ovation.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Marc Brenner


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