Storytelling: it’s something we all do in various forms on a daily basis – a means of communication that we instinctually utilise.
The combination of Irish playwright Brian Friel’s masterful narration, John Dove’s intimate direction and three finely nuanced performances showcases the charming simplicity of storytelling in this fantastic production at the Royal Lyceum.
Simply set, against Michael Taylor’s sparse backdrop of a nameless, dingy community hall, the audience are introduced to Francis ‘Frank’ Hardy – a faith healer who roams the small towns of Scotland and Wales healing the sick, whilst trying to find a way home with his companions; wife Grace and manager Teddy.
Dove perfectly plants the action right on the cusp of the stage, as the trio of characters interact directly with the audience, pulling us into Friel’s beautiful prose and complex characters as they deliver monologues of shifting memories, centring around a night when Frank cured 10 people in a Welsh village and the tragic event that took place one dawn in the Irish village of Ballybeg.
Sean O’Callaghan’s Faith Healer Frank is a shabby but charismatic showman who is both tortured and titillated by the gift over which he has no control. Strutting around, O’Callaghan gives us a brazen Frank who seems unable to quiet his inner turmoil, finding it easier to lash out at those around him or ignore them altogether.
Playing Grace, Niamh McCann turns in a hauntingly broken woman, obsessed and in servitude to her wayward husband, stunting her own independence. Clinging to desperate comic moments makes McCann’s delivery all the more compelling, as she exposes her tragic testimony, her mental state uncoiling one spring at a time with her utter inability to live on without Frank.
Teddy – the likeable Londoner who could never bring himself to part ways with Frank – is perfectly pitched by Patrick Driver in a dapper suit with a knowing grin. The most comedic storyteller of the characters, his intimate recollections of moments shared, interspersed with anecdotes of a bagpipe playing dog, allow Teddy to come across as the warmest, happiest of the trio.
But with his steady drinking and nervous laugh, Driver’s manager shows cracks on the surface of his showbiz patter in a rich realisation of his inability to disguise how damaged he is by his unreserved devotion to Frank and unrequited affection for Grace.
Structured so that the story is at once completely alien yet intriguingly familiar, Friel’s empathetic yet unrelenting exploration of human experience is presented here beautifully.
Everyone will be able to draw comparisons with their own situations from these rich creations and will perhaps leave pondering what control, if any, we have over life.
Until Saturday 7 February, 7.30pm (Tuesday – Saturday), 2pm Matinee (Wednesdays and Saturdays), Prices vary from £10 - £29