Library Theatre, Manchester
Roger Haines has directed Brian Friel's series of monologues for Manchester's Library Theatre.
The faith healer of the title is Frank, or "The Fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer, One Night Only" as he is billed on the poster that forms the backdrop to most of the play. The story of Frank, his career and his marriage is told in a series of four monologues from Frank, his wife Grace, his manager Teddy and then back to Frank again. We are given four different and often contradictory accounts of several key events in Frank's life, such as when he is said to have cured ten people in a night, when Grace gave birth to a stillborn son in the wilds of Scotland and the incident in a pub in Ballybeg near Donegal Town. The stories do not all come from the same time period, as two of the characters who speak to us are referred to as dead by at least one other.
The play is not about whether Frank really heals people or notall three give accounts of miracles he is said to have performed, even if the details of these events do not often match upbut about the nature of truth and memory and the reliability of witnesses' accounts of events in which they are intimately involved. It is also about stories and how they are used to elaborate on the truth, to entertain, to make sense of things and to pass on memories, however incomplete these memories may be.
A full play consisting entirely of lengthy monologues demands a great deal of concentration from the audience and it is inevitable to lose its attention from time to time. If this can be used as a measure of success, Teddy's scene is the most successful as it is, despite containing some serious material, the most entertaining and funny, performed superbly and engagingly by Kim Durham. Frank, as played by Ged McKenna, is quite laid-back with a cheeky smile that makes you think he is really not to be trusted. Grace, played here by Stella Madden, would confirm this judgement of her husbandwho even introduced her to everyone as his 'mistress' while on tourbut her scene has the fewest laughs and feels just a touch slow.
Of course lengthy monologues are very demanding to perform as well, and director Roger Haines has got three very natural performances from his three excellent actors. The result is a demanding but rewarding and often very funny production at the Library of a fascinating look at how the same events can seem so very different depending on who is telling the story.
Running until 17th November
Reviewer: David Chadderton