When I was at secondary school in the 1950s, we were taught about the significance of the 20th century’s Irish writers, poets and playwrights including W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O’Casey and J.M.Synge, and the impact of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre which was founded in 1904. Irish writers have maintained a remarkable influence on English language literature. The death of Brian Friels (1929-2015) was an occasion for reflection. New York saw the first production of his play Faith Healer in 1979. A production of Faith Healer is being presented by Melbourne Theatre Company at the Southbank Theatre from this week; it comes from Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre where it was greatly admired late last year.
Faith Healer is directed by Judy Davis, the multi-award winning actress and also successful director in recent years. There are just three actors: Colin Friels, no relation to the playwright but husband of the director; the other two are Alison Whyte, most recently in Sydney playing the Virgin in Colm Tóbin’s revisionist The Testament of Mary, and Paul Blackwell. The set designer is Brian Thomson; costumes are by Tess Schofield. Judy Davis has described Faith Healer as a memory play; it grapples with the distinctions between truth and falsity.
Brian Friel’s first successful play was Philadelphia, Here I Come in 1964. This master of intense but economic dramatic language wrote many other notable plays most of which have been produced in Australia. Many believe Faith Healer to be his greatest play.
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