Nothing to See Here
Brian Friel's Faith Healer
Belvoir St Theatre | Sydney
directed by Judy Davis
Frank makes his living as a faith healer, travelling all over Britain with a performance that showcases his charismatic arrogance, and sometimes actually miraculously healing people in the process. There are serious troubles in private however, but none of his energy is put into finding a cure for the suffering at home. Brian Friel’s play is meandering and often obscure, with its Rashomon style of getting at the truth by taking us through layers of subjectivity and delusions, in a simple format of successive monologues.
Three characters, speaking in distinctive voices, help us piece together a puzzle that is both confusing and intriguing. Talent manager Teddy’s warm candour is endearingly portrayed by Pip Miller, who captivates with a precise and dynamic approach. The vividness of his storytelling is inviting and contrasts with Frank’s enigmatic style that can often alienate, in spite of actor Colin Friels’ powerful presence. The shamanic showman’s life is occupied by smoke and mirrors, and his penchant for embellishments and denials have us mystified even when his followers are kept mesmerised. In the role of Frank’s wife, Grace, is Alison Whyte, impressive with an extraordinary emotional agility, perfect for a character replete with volatility.
Director, the iconic Australian star, Judy Davis insists that we watch closely at the cast, although her stagnant presentation is demanding of us and probably excessive in its minimalism. Design however, is noteworthy, with a spectacular cyclorama by Brian Thomson depicting a wide variation of cloudy skies, transforming with every one of Verity Hampson’s lighting changes. The weather we see in the backdrop is often the most truthful element on stage.
When Frank’s audience falls into his concoction of fiction and non-fiction, they are willing participants in a show, all wishing to believe. When people turn to the faith business for salvation, it is because tall tales feel more real than reality. The afflicted come to Frank for a cure, but more accurately, what they seek most is certainty. A life of doubt and ambiguity is unbearable, and the allure of faith lies in its ability to turn hope into surety. When the whole world turns cruel, comfort can only come from the extraterrestrial.
photo | ©Brett Boardman