Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until February 7
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Until January 31
Reviewed by Mark Brown
The fit between Brian Friel, the great Irish master of theatrical forms, and director John Dove, creator of many nuanced -yet-robust productions, is close to perfect.
We sensed this in Dove’s British premiere of Friel’s Living Quarters for the Lyceum back in 2007. It is confirmed abundantly here, in the director’s fine staging of the Irishman’s fascinating three-hander Faith Healer.
First staged in 1979, the drama takes us into the unlikely tragedies which lie within the relations between Frank Hardy, a travelling faith healer from Ireland, his wife Grace and his agent Teddy. Told by way of four, mutually contradictory monologues (Frank’s stories top and tail the play), the piece offers up a world of dog-eared halls in the depressed former pit villages of Wales and the far flung corners of rural Scotland.
It is here that “the fantastic Francis Hardy, faith healer” welcomes the desperately afflicted, and is caught between an almost messianic belief in his own “gift” and a sense that he’s little more than a failed vaudeville con artist. Sean O’Callaghan gives a superb, compelling performance as the good-looking, charismatic Frank, who is broken and drowning in booze.
On a set (by Michael Taylor) which evokes every cold, neglected church hall you’ve ever been in unfolds an intelligent and emotive play about the construction of truth or, rather, truths. To Frank’s initially convincing sense of self-belief are added the sad, restrained anguish of Niamh McCann’s Grace and the heartbreak and failure of Teddy, a music hall caricature rendered whole by Friel’s writing and the excellent acting of Patrick Driver.
Opening a matter of days after the Lyceum celebrated the life of its late artistic director Kenny Ireland (whose production of Howard Barker’s play Victory for the Edinburgh playhouse back in 2002 remains a Scottish theatrical highlight for me and, I know, many others), it is fitting that the theatre is staging a modern classic, directed by a craftsman such as Dove. Kenny would have approved, I’m sure.
It is somewhat more difficult to approve of London-based Filter Theatre’s “interpretation” of Macbeth; for “interpretation” read predictably postmodern rendition. On a naked Citizens Theatre stage, around a group of tables hosting the equipment necessary for the creation of a live soundtrack of electronic music, noises and recorded/distorted voices, a cast of seven, in informal modern dress, seem to be trying (and failing) to imagine how the Scottish play would look if it was co-produced by the Wooster Group and Forced Entertainment.
Whether it is Ferdy Roberts’s Macbeth, who wanders into the stalls wearing jeans and slurping from a coffee mug, or Lady M (Poppy Miller), making up party bags of Wotsits and cans of Coke for her illustrious guests, one can’t help but feel, as one does with so much self-consciously “ironic” theatre, that one is watching the bastard offspring of the early-20th century avant-garde (Gertrude Stein, some of whose theatre works were, memorably, staged at the Citz in 1994, must be spinning in her Parisian grave).
Nor is there much to be said for the production’s, no doubt deliberately, clashing acting styles; an earnest Macbeth contrasts with an often ludicrously melodramatic Lady M and Alison Reid, slouching and flippant in various roles.
Once again, postmodern theatre arrives promising innovation, only to present another toothless, cold, pseudo-radical production.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 25, 2015
© Mark Brown