Whilst people have been slowly turning away from institutional religion for decades, our need for something to believe in is immovable, instead appearing everywhere from wellness to cultish support for leaders. Rachel O’Riordan’s revival of the Brian Friel classic is an accomplished, if slow, interrogation of the intricate layers of faith.

Written by Brian Friel in 1979, the play takes audiences on an introspective journey through the lives of three characters - the faith healer himself (Declan Conlan), his tortured wife (Justine Mitchell), and his manager Teddy (Nick Holden). Set against the backdrop of rural Ireland, the play unfolds in a series of monologues, each character narrating their own version of events, leaving the audience to weave together their own idea of what really happened.

This obtuse structure is no small feat for the cast to crack, and despite the sheer brilliance of the throuple at the center of this production, the unapologetic slowness did help me understand the critical backlash the play first received in 1979. It is a meaty piece that tackles its subject deeply, sometimes in compromise of engagement.

If you manage to stay awake, the payoff is worth it. Each character's narrative provides a unique perspective, enabling the play to tackle weighty themes from fertility issues to alcoholism with knife edge precision. Tension is the common thread that weaves through every tale, whether it’s between faith and doubt, hope and despair or love and hate. We leave questioning our own beliefs and perceptions.

Declan Conlan plays Francis Hardy, or Frank, in a measured manner. He convincingly offers glimpses into his troubled past, his elusive gift, and the burdens it carries. His rational portrayal adds an interesting contrast to the magical subject of his story and he makes a convincing healer.

Justine’s Grace feels unhinged in comparison. Unwavering and undeserved devotion shines through her monologue, and she brings a palpable sadness to the piece. Her portrayal is desperate and offers a heart wrenching glimpse of how seeing a person through rose tinted glasses can cause us to make devastating sacrifices.

Our right hand man, Teddy, played with unwavering wit by Nick Holden is the most animated performance of them all. We feel that his story, unbiased by self esteem or love, is the most reliable. However his incessant on stage drinking and laugh out loud anecdotes of novelty animal acts might suggest otherwise.

Colin Richmond’s minimalist set provides an intimate atmosphere for the audience to engage entirely with the cast and the intricate details of the story. The cracked backdrop parallels the fragility of the characters that stand in front of it and a stylistic surprise ends the show with flair.

Brian Friels ‘The Faith Healer’ is not easy to watch by any means, but Rachel O’Riodans take, with a stellar cast and thoughtful direction more than does it justice. It’s a heavy, but accomplished piece that encourages us to delve deep into our beliefs and how they might impact the people around us.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner