Faith Healer

Brian Friel
Salberg Studio, Salisbury Playhouse
(2009)

Production photo

Salisbury Playhouse Artistic Director Philip Wilson possesses a flair for rediscovering long-lost plays, Priestley's People at Sea and even a lost Ayckbourn among them.

This week his new production of Brian Friel's 1979 Broadway gem, Faith Healer is being staged in the Salberg Studio where a strong cast make excellent use of the intimate atmosphere this work demands.

Tough meat is Faith Healer. It requires much of the three actors who perform the four monologues through which Friel relates the conflicting testimonies of the man in question, faith healer Francis (Frank) Hardy.

It is worth recalling that the first Hardy, in the original '79 Broadway production of only 20 performances, was no less a star than James Mason. Now there was a character to remember - and anyone with a trace of his films in their memory will know precisely what I mean.

In fact, I always assumed Mason was of Irish, rather than of Yorkshire blood. Be that as it may, I can hear his brogue as a worthy Hardy.

Not that there are any complaints about the sturdy performance of Connor Byrne in the title role. His voice may not be as hauntingly mellifluous as Mason's but then nobody's is. However, Byrne's is an excellent piece of storytelling - precisely what this piece requires.

Nice accounts, too, from Maggie O'Brien as wife Grace and, especially, from Patrick Driver as the stout-supping manager, Teddy.

If I have a grouse about this account, it is that I would like to feel even more of the spirit of the storyteller. It may be invidious to say that Ralph Fiennes and Ian McDiarmid have both also featured in US revivals of this play, but that serves only to illustrate the nature of the work - a piece for old fashioned steam-radio, if ever there was one.

Lighting is by Peter Hunter and sound by Alex Twiselton with costumes by Samantha Bell and design by the director, not forgetting the strains of Endearing young charms and Astair's evocative The way you look tonight under the supervision of Richard Sisson.

"Faith Healer" continues in the studio until Saturday, 9th May.

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole