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‘Showcases 3 actors at the top of their game’: FAITH HEALER – Old Vic (Online review)

The third live stream from The Old Vic In Camera is Brian Friel’s masterpiece Faith Healer. Written in 1979, it takes the form of four monologues and so is a perfect choice for a production requiring social distancing.

Running at two hours and 20 minutes, this is a piece of grand intensity, assisted here by close ups and lighting tricks you could never convey in the venue’s auditorium. Michael Sheen plays the title role of Francis Hardy, who is a grandstanding “healer”.

This is a play which showcases three actors at the top of their game. In Sheen’s case it is refreshing to see something that isn’t an imitation of a contemporary real-life character, instead a fictional creation that builds up before our eyes.

David Threlfall’s stage agent Teddy, all “dear hearts” and backstage gossip, gets the longest single monologue, exposing the gaps in both the previous pieces from Francis and wife Grace (Indira Varma). There is even a dog we can’t see but who is conjured up in our minds.

Music, too, is present throughout in snatches of ‘Just The Way You Look Tonight’, which means something to each character. All human life is in this play and this trio: love, ambition, success, hubris, despair, deceit, dishonesty.

This is what digital theatre is about. Filmed on the stage of the Old Vic, facing away from the auditorium, Faith Healer is an intense piece which occasionally breaches the fourth wall and which pulls in uncomfortably close to emotional situations.

A wordy piece is given a bit of stage magic, a sprinkle of stardust, and thoughtful and risky direction which comes through very effectively. A final shot echoes one in the first monologue where Francis may have more than a passing resemblance to the Messiah, not only in his resignation to his eventual fate.

Varma’s Grace is delicate and damaged, but she is as unreliable a narrator as Francis and Teddy. This play is a gift to creatives and audiences as all have to work to unpick Friel’s complex plotlines.

Ultimately this is a flawless rendition of a deeply engrossing and emotional text, nicely designed by Rob Howell and with broadcast sound and video by Simon Baker. It doesn’t hide behind niceties and flirts on the fringes of danger: more please!

Faith Healer runs until 19 September and is delivered via Zoom – more details here. Tim Lutkin and Sarah Brown provided the evocative lighting.

LouReviews purchased a PWC £10 ticket to see Faith Healer.

Image credits: Old Vic

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