De­pic­tion of lives on the mar­gin is close to per­fec­tion

The Scotsman - - REVIEWS -


Faith Healer Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val The­atre JJJJJ


Play­house, Ed­in­burgh JJJJ

Peo­ple live mar­ginal lives for many rea­sons, of course, piec­ing out an ex­is­tence on the edge of or­di­nary, set­tled so­ci­ety. In Brian Friel’s mighty 1979 mas­ter­piece Faith Healer, though, we meet three char­ac­ters who live there by choice, because of love, pas­sion and what one of them fi­nally calls art.

Frank Hardy is a faith healer, en­tirely at the mercy of his own in­creas­ingly un­re­li­able gift, yet ut­terly driven in his need to carry on work­ing and in his rel­a­tive in­dif­fer­ence to ev­ery­thing else. His wife Grace adores him, de­spite the fierce rows that mark their re­la­tion­ship; and his man­ager Teddy loves both of them with a ca­reer-wreck­ing, im­pov­er­ish­ing pas­sion that he can­not fully ac­knowl­edge even to him­self. Through four mag­nif­i­cent linked mono­logues – the first and the last by Frank, the sec­ond and third by Grace and Teddy – Friel re­counts how the three spend decades to­gether, tour­ing the bro­ken-down vil­lage halls of Wales and western Scot­land, never wish­ing to re­turn to Frank and Gra­cie’s na­tive Ire­land.

All four mono­logues tell the same story, and yet they di­verge – Frank’s full of fan­tasy and self-de­cep­tion, Grace’s of heart­break and anger, Teddy’s of love, loss and be­wil­der­ment dis­guised as street­wise Cock­ney ban­ter.

All of this com­plex­ity is cap­tured with a beau­ti­ful, mea­sured bril­liance in El­iz­a­beth New­man’s new au­tumn pro­duc­tion for Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val The­atre, set to tour to half a dozen the­atres and halls across the High­lands af­ter its Pit­lochry run.

Ge­orge Costi­gan is a fas­ci­nat­ing, clever and witty Frank, who still strug­gles a lit­tle to cap­ture the sheer, fate­ful hor­ror of what fi­nally be­falls him, on his longde­layed re­turn to Ire­land; Richard Stand­ing is su­perb as Teddy, en­ter­tain­ing the au­di­ence with jokes that break the heart.

And Kirsty Stu­art, as Grace, is sim­ply be­yond praise, in a per­for­mance that com­bines per­fect, heart-rend­ing in­ti­macy with an emo­tional scale and tech­ni­cal bril­liance ca­pa­ble of fill­ing the largest the­atre. The pro­duc­tion – set on a sin­gle, bare vil­lage-hall stage – ben­e­fits from beau­ti­fully un­der­stated de­sign, light­ing and sound by Amanda Stood­ley, Jea­nine Byrne and Ben Oc­chip­inti; and comes so close to per­fec­tion that au­di­ences across the High­lands should flock to see it, as it comes briefly within touch­ing dis­tance of them.

If Faith Healer deals with wil­fully mar­ginal lives, the great 1951 Rogers and Ham­mer­stein mu­si­cal The King and I is very much about two pow­er­ful per­son­al­i­ties – the Welsh governess Anna Leonowens and the dy­namic, mod­ernising King of Siam – both of whom be­lieve that their world view rep­re­sents the moral cen­tre of the uni­verse. Bartlett Sher’s 2016 Lin­coln Cen­tre pro­duc­tion – now open­ing a Uk-wide tour at the Play­house – starts with a dis­turbingly Anna’s-eye view, as she and her son Louis are be­sieged on the Bangkok quay­side by Si­amese beg­gars; and with the mag­nif­i­cent, golden-voiced An­na­lene Beechey, as Anna, modelling a 40-year-old Mar­garet Thatcher in man­ner and speak­ing voice, the signs seem a shade wor­ry­ing.

She soon meets her match, though, not only in Jose Llana’s im­pres­sive, com­plex King, but in Cezarah Bon­ner’s ma­jes­tic Lady Thi­ang and Paulina Ye­ung’s brave, pas­sion­ate Tup­tim, who be­tween them pro­foundly chal­lenge both their own tra­di­tions and western as­sump­tions of su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Mu­si­cally and the­atri­cally, the pro­duc­tion is fab­u­lously beau­ti­ful, with clas­sics such as Hello Young Lovers and I Have Dreamed greeted with gasps and cheers of ap­pre­ci­a­tion; and when the King and Anna fi­nally swirl round Michael Year­gan’s gor­geous set in an ec­static Shall We Dance, the au­di­ence seem set to raise the roof, in the first Play­house stand­ing ova­tion for a long time that be­longs, spon­ta­neously and di­rectly, to the show it­self, and not to the mem­ory of some lon­glost band or star, re­cap­tured in tribute.

Faith Healer at Pit­lochry Fes­ti­val The­atre un­til 3 Novem­ber and on tour across the High­lands un­til 16 Novem­ber, in­clud­ing Eden Court The­atre, In­ver­ness, 14-16. The King and I at the Play­house, Ed­in­burgh, un­til 26 Oc­to­ber, and King’s The­atre, Glas­gow, 28 Jan­uary to 8 Fe­bru­ary


0 Ge­orge Costi­gan is a fas­ci­nat­ing, clever and witty Frank

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