Faith Healing

When live theatre is bad, nothing can be more irritating — there you are, stuck in the middle of a row, unable to escape, forced to endure until the interval or end (unless you really want to make a statement and flounce out of the place, stepping on toes and tripping over handbags as you inch toward the freedom-giving aisle).

But when theatre is good, especially when theatre is very very good, it is truly an out of body experience. You go somewhere entirely other. It is an experience like no other, far superior to anything film can ever produce at least to my mind, because you are engaging with flesh and voice directly, without celluloid intervention. Your sense of being seated in a bricks and mortar building vanishes, and you disappear into the world being created by words and set onstage. There’s a sense of surrender. A bit of magic. Sometimes, reluctance to believe. And then you cross over, the live experience gels and the bliss that is rivetting theatre happens.

Not unlike a faith healer, healing… as playwright Brian Friel recognised long ago in his play The Faith Healer (surely his best work). The play has just opened at the Gate with an incredible, focused, tight and taut cast of Ralph Fiennes (as Frank, the faith healer — which is why Fiennes is hanging about drinking in the Ely wine bar as remarked upon below), Ian McDiarmuid (he of evilness in Star Wars, here playing the washed out but very funny Teddy, the faith healer’s cockney manager) and Ingrid Craigie (the wife/mistress Grace, in a performance that flays you emotionally by the end of her monologue).

Thanks to a friend of a friend, who had a couple of spare tickets for the night before opening night, I was fortunate to see this production, which is the first show at the venerable Gate to ever sell out before the run actually began. Fiennes is obviously the draw, but his mastery as an actor is such that you become as immersed in his character as Fiennes is himself, to the point where you do indeed become capable of forgetting it is Ralph. Fiennes. Live. On. Stage. The stage itself is dark and bare, demanding even more that the actors each breathe life into the world we are to see over the next two and a half hours, and create it they do.

This is a truly memorable performance, well worth getting there early and queuing for returns, which alas seems the only way to get in to see it on this run. For those in the US, the production transfers to Broadway in the spring (early May), though Craigie sadly will not transfer with it.

1 Comment so far

  1. Daragh Mc Grath (unregistered) on February 15th, 2006 @ 3:33 pm

    Yeah, I heard this was kinda brilliant alright, was told to book tickets when they were still for sale, and of course never got around to it! Ah well, here’s hoping someone will be able to russle up a ticket for me! :)

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