Almeida Theatre at King's Cross, London N1
Opened 28 November, 2001

**** Brian Friel's monologues are simple but compelling

I wasn't sure that anyone could stand comparison with the late, mighty Donal McCann in the title role. Ken Stott can.

Where McCann held an audience absolutely compelled by his looming, mournful recollections, Stott cuts a slighter figure; he speaks more quickly and lightly, and allows us to laugh a lot more. But the sensation is still there that this small-time travelling healer has a disquieting secret at his core, which we gradually learn over the course of four monologues by Frank the healer, Grace his mistress or wife, Teddy his manager and finally Frank again lasting a total of two hours.

On the one hand, Friel has each of his characters use exactly the same words at various points, so that central events and locations are etched deeply; on the other, he has them contradict each other, so that we are surprised to hear Grace's Irish accent having been told by Frank that she is from Yorkshire, and are not even sure whether or not the two were married. Geraldine James's Grace is brittle and grimly passionate, but Ian McDiarmid's comic, insinuating Teddy constitutes the fulcrum of the play: for all his small-time showbiz phoniness, it is most nearly through his eyes that we finally comprehend the powerful tragedy of Frank Hardy, faith healer.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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