Faith and Healing

Aberarder, Aberayron,
Llangranog, Llangurig,
Abergorlech, Abergynolwyn,
Llandefeilog, Llanerchymedd,
Aberhosan, Aberporth...
With this tongue-twisting recitation, or incantation, of Welsh place names, the fantastic Francis Hardy, Faith Healer, begins a harrowing theatrical journey through his story... An exploration of fact, fiction and truth, faith, hope and despair, surrounding Hardy and his unpredictable gift (or was it a curse?); exercising (or exorcising) it in a "ministry without responsibility."
For those who don't know the play, the story is told in a series of 4 monologues by Francis, his "partner" Grace and "manager" Teddy... I won't spoil the story except to say it isn't exactly a comedy... although it's not without it's moments of humour.
23 years ago I had the privilege of playing Frank in an Edinburgh Fringe production, with the woman who went on to be my wife as the director... But it was interesting to see it with my wife for the first time since then at the Lyric on Saturday night, especially since my friend Ali White, played Grace in both productions. She's now the right age... and it would have been interesting to have a go at the part of Frank myself nearly quarter of a century on.
This isn't a review of the production, for a few reasons. First, after a tour with nearly as many stops as Francis Hardy's roadshow, the Townhall Production has come to the end of the line... though why that should be so with the Lyric now dark until the 22nd of November and this production having sold out all the past week I do not know... So there's not much point in reviewing a show that no-one else would have the ability to see except as an act of point-scoring vanity (I had the same problem with the opening show in the refurbished Lyric, my friend Conall Morrison's production of "The Crucible" - although as well as being directed by a friend this production had a number of parallels with "Faith  Healer": one of the actors was Lalor Roddy, and it deals with issues of faith and society).
Second, it's always dodgy reviewing anything that a friend is in - if you are overly effusive others will think you are biased, if you are critical then a friendship may be put under strain, and friendship is too important for that (again an issue with "The Crucible")... Although it has to be said that my friends have never accused me of going soft on them... Just prefer to keep such criticism private!
Third, with this show in particular it is hard to dispassionately engage with a performance that you have previously invested so much in, and are inevitably going to see differently from another actor.
If you are interested in a review you can check out Hugh Odling-Smee's (don't agree with all his analysis, but love his line describing the play as "Friel’s thoughts on how Beckett would have written Terry and June") or C.M. McHugh's among others. Suffice to say I enjoyed last night... it was a delight to see Ali again, both on stage and all too briefly afterwards, and a joy to be drawn into the world weaved by Brian Friel's words.
"Too many words" according to one audience member in our Edinburgh production, and there were times when I remember seeing audience members asleep in the small auditorium... though no-one who snored as loudly as one member of the audience at the Lyric on Saturday night. How Lalor Roddy didn't hear him in the last monologue, or if he did, how he was able to carry on, I don't know... Certainly had I been sitting beside him I'd have nudged him awake or smothered him with a coat!
It is a play that demands absolute attention, and they lyrical quality of the dialogue in places could soothe you into sleep... but the rapt attention required is more than repaid by a multi-layered exploration of many issues.
I suppose thinking again about this play so many years down the line, when I have spent most of those years dealing with faith, and even healing (for example last night we had a service of prayer for healing in my own church) it raises many interesting questions for me that may never impinge on others. Personally there is always the danger of seeing preaching and leading worship as "performances" as Francis Hardy would describe them, playing a part and wearing a mask (becoming a hypocrite, or mask-wearer as Jesus criticised the Pharisees) before the congregation rather than exposing my real self and becoming vulnerable. Hardy is protected from that by moving from place to place, never having to make himself responsible to any of his "audience"... Itinerant evangelists (include those who have a healing element to their ministries) may have the "luxury" of this, but not those with the responsibility of an ongoing pastoral ministry.
Francis Hardy makes no claim to any religious affiliation, yet the play does, inevitably, raise many questions regarding faith and religious belief. Where does this healing faith come from and where is it focussed? Is it faith in the healer or faith in faith, or even the healer releasing a faith in themsleves within the person who needs healing? Interestingly no-one makes any mention of God, in a positive or a negative way... I wonder if it were written and set now, would there be more of a new-Atheist polemic on the nature of faith and the fact that God is unnecessary even for "faith" healing. Most orthodox Christian teaching on healing emphasises that the key thing is not the faith of the person asking to be healed, or those praying on their behalf, but the faithful God to whom they are praying... But the results of such prayer sometimes seem to be just as fickle and unpredictable as the healing events in this play. Ultimately we follow Jesus' example in praying "Your will be done", but is "God's will" then the ultimate kop-out?
All the characters in this play agree that healings take place... none are bold enough to claim to understand how. I actually wish some Christian writers on healing were so agnostic...
The healer here has no control over his "gift" and is unable to heal the hurts at the centre of his own life and relationships... instead  he reorders his record of reality. Truth and fiction are not always antithetical, but truth should always be grounded in reality. Whilst we should seek to look at things positively, that doesn't mean that we should recast reality in such a way that everything is always good. Francis Hardy's big enemies in this play are the questions that plague him, and that is also the case for many people of faith. Yet faith and doubt are not polar opposites, indeed we should face questions, doubts and problems as aspects of and pointers to truth. That way lies healing and wholeness... And personally speaking when the questions stop and I've got all the answers I think it will be time to bring the curtain down...


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