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BWW Review: FAITH HEALER, Old Vic: In Camera


Michael Sheen, Indira Varma and David Threlfall star in this live-streamed production

BWW Review: FAITH HEALER, Old Vic: In Camera

BWW Review: FAITH HEALER, Old Vic: In Camera Faith Healer is the third production in the Old Vic: In Camera live-streamed series, and the first with multiple performers involved.

Written by Brian Friel, the play tells the story of Francis Hardy (played by Michael Sheen), a faith healer who travels to rural parts of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, accompanied by his wife Grace (Indira Varma) and manager Teddy (David Threlfall).

Each character performs a monologue alone, talking about their time with one another and providing their own take on key moments that happen on the road - from Francis and Grace's volatile marriage and the tragic loss of their baby, through to their own individual perceptions on Francis's act. Throughout the show, they variously contradict and support each other's stories, leaving the audience to figure out what is fact and fiction, with an ending that feels almost thriller-like.

The monologues are dramatically different in presentation here. While Sheen's speeches are loud, direct and fuelled by a showman's confidence, Varma's portrayal of Grace is far more subtle, gentler and withdrawn, while Threlfall is somewhere between the two. These contrasting tonal performances work together to not only progress the narrative and character development, but also showcase the intelligent and rich writing style of Friel, sublime directing from Matthew Warchus and masterful acting skills from the three performers.

Sheen commands attention right from the start with his powerful entrance, as he emerges from the darkness into the spotlight, walking past empty stall seats. He gets both the first and final monologues, and swings between the highest of highs and lowest of lows, going from victor to victim until he finally lands at acceptance. This could be an exhausting or unlikeable trait, but Sheen delivers it so magnificently and with such charm that you find yourself warming to Francis, despite his apparent flaws. It also makes the upcoming monologues even more hard-hitting, as you soon discover he's impacted the lives of his wife and manager more than he let on.

Varma's reading of Hardy's wife is striking, as she plays a woman torn between the love for her husband and tolerating the life she must lead in order to be with him. This is an incredibly complex character to bring to life alone, but Varma makes it look effortless and delivers every word with delicacy and clear thought.

Threlfall has quite the act to follow, appearing after Sheen and Varma's mesmerising monologues, but he certainly rises to the challenge. His character of Teddy is caught between Francis and Grace, so he's a key component in the narrative, not least because those two have described him in a particular way already. Threlfall uses this to his advantage, and memorably portrays a lonely but kind man who flips your previous assumptions within minutes.

Rob Howell's set and costume design has no doubt been restricted in this pandemic-compliant production, but you'd never know it. Sheen's memorable walk through the deserted stalls is made all the more impactful for his suit, and you instantly feel you know Grace and Teddy's circumstances because of the level of detail that's gone into the set around them.

Watching a show that's so centred around a speaker connecting with and healing an audience, when we're having to watch the show online and witness empty seats behind the actors is certainly bizarre. But, despite the contrasting message of the show and our reality, Faith Healer never loses its core ideas or sense of realism thanks to its strong actors and engaging content.

This is a smart and intricate play that captures your attention with its rich language, intense performances and an unforgettable storyline that twists and turns until the very end.

Faith Healer ran at the Old Vic between 17-19 September

Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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