There are many poignant issues and questions raised by this outstanding presentation of four monologues, which ran for 2 hours 20 minutes plus interval. Whether it works as a play, or whether it might be more of a novella that should be read and pondered in more depth is worth considering, such is the depth of this remarkable and feted Irish playwright. It is certainly long, somewhat mesmerising, sometimes soporific, definitely challenging, even disturbing, and undeniably brilliantly acted by three superb, seasoned actors, each in turn commanding a blank stage with minimal appurtenances, against a cyclorama of clouds (design: Brian Thomson) which respond to the delicate and subtle lighting changes of designer Verity Hampson.
Colin Friels, as the Faith Healer Frank, emerges from the dark and a shower of Welsh place names to present the first version of the story of three inter-twined lives as they travel around back roads and villages of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. But it’s not only the story that he introduces. His simple faith, self-assuredness and self-doubt are laid out as he ponders his craft or ministry or vocation – he is unsure which. As a faith healer with occasional apparent successes, is he showman or shaman? conman or comforter? Friels is commanding from the start as he charmingly, and with masterful control of accents, lays out his frank perceptions of himself, his wife/ mistress, Grace and his manager, Teddy.
His charm is what Grace (Alison Whyte) tells us that lured her to him, such that she “debauched” herself for him and was exhausted. But soon a very different picture of this relationship and of Frank emerges in her superbly presented narrative. Between increasingly frequent whiskies, she reveals a damaged childhood and a tortured life with Frank and his talent for hurting her; her mis-marriage, a miscarriage, and her despising of his craft, his alcoholic decline, his invalidation of her, and yet his allure.
One thing the couple shared is devotion from Teddy, Frank’s manager. Paul Blackwell’s turn to command the stage brought some welcome Cockney levity. His unlikely stories of whippets and pigeons, are tempered with a lovely pragmatism about the couple and their relationship, and down-to-earth philosophies about talent and brains seldom residing in the same body, and that friendship and work don’t mix. Blackwell beautifully portrays a depth of understanding of both Frank’s self-involvement, and Grace’s turmoil.
All the versions of the story merge to a point. But the play offers no answer to the dichotomy between the different memories held and the actual truth, or who can we trust, or why do we do what we do?. Some memories are closer to the truth than others, and some are firmly held to protect us from the truth we can’t face. This play poses this dilemma frankly, these actors, with Director Judy Davis portray it very skilfully, and the playwright leaves us with a mystery to ponder.
A Belvoir production presented by State Theatre Company SA
by Brian Friel
Director Judy Davis
Venue: Space Theatre | Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: September 26 – October 13, 2018