Some actors are born to play a certain
role: fated, you might say. It is ironic that Finbar Lynch and Frank
Hardy are such a match, since one aspect of Brian Friel's 1979
masterpiece is the tension between faith and fate. Is Frank, as he
works a succession of out-of-the-way village halls in Wales and
Scotland, destined to a particular end, or can he muster enough belief
in himself to choose his own fate? The answer we take from the play
depends on how much credence we give to the often contradictory
accounts by Frank, his wife (probably) Grace and his manager Teddy.
Friel comes from the Irish borderlands and sets all his plays in and
around a similar area, the fictitious Donegal village of Ballybeg
(where Faith Healer
climaxes). His characters, too, are usually perched on some cusp or
other: between the past and the future (hence Friel's dramatic kinship
with Chekhov), between value and worthlessness, and here also between
this world and the next.
Lynch does not
have the marrow-deep mournfulness of the late Donal McCann, who made
this role his own; but he possesses a bleak fatalism (that notion
again)... after all, as Frank tells us his tale, true or false, he
already knows how it ends. Lynch's natural sardonicism works well in
the mix, as if Frank is trying in vain to be playfully dismissive even
of his own self-despite. In the second of the four monologues which
compose the play, Kathy Kiera Clarke's Grace is much more obviously
battling to retain self-control; it is perhaps significant that her
moment of most intense emotion concerns not Frank but her own father.
Richard Bremner's Teddy provides both some deliciously down-at-heel
showbiz humour and the most temperate psychological perspective, before
Frank returns to recount what we too now know to be the inevitable.
the main house of Bristol Old Vic closes for refurbishment, Mike
Britton's design turns the basement studio into one of the dingy halls
frequented by "the fantastic Francis Hardy, faith healer". The intimacy
adds to the compelling character of the material, and Lynch knows well
how to play a silence. Simon Godwin's production proves that, while
upstairs is out of commission, smaller does not in any way mean lesser.
Written for the Financial