Richard Bremmer as Teddy, photo by Simon Annand
Brian Friel’s Faith Healer opened on Broadway in 1979, and promptly closed after just 20 performances. Since then the show has enjoyed success in London, Dublin, Sydney and New York, sparking conversation and debate with every revival. Director Simon Godwin talks about the play, truth, and faith…
What were your initial thoughts when you first read Faith Healer?
My initial thought when I read Faith Healer was that it was a cracking good story. In fact it’s three cracking good stories, in that three different characters discuss the same events. Faith Healer works on a similar model to Chinese Whispers. It’s about the pleasure of stories and discovering what stays the same and what changes with each telling.
How do you think the play’s structure affects its meaning?
If I described to you a love affair I once had, the way that I would describe it would not be exactly how it was. There’s a difference - a gap - between my description and the thing itself. The play is built around this gap: what is the relationship between the event and how we describe it? Does the event change under the pressure to describe it to another person? Where does reality begin and my description of it end?
I was reading Brian Friel’s diaries on the train today, and he was saying that the job of the philosopher is like the job of the cartographer who maps the coastline of an island not to learn the boundaries of the island but to learn the limits of the ocean. Faith Healer is about the limits of language to describe something that finally lies beyond words. And here we have the link to the idea of the miracle, which is beyond the everyday, beyond the rational, beyond speech. In this play Brian is trying to evoke an ocean-like feeling in the audience. He’s asking us: what are the limits of understanding and of possibility?
Finbar Lynch as Francis Hardy, photo by Simon Annand
What is your interpretation of Frank’s powers?
The faith healer might be a metaphor for the artist. Art goes beyond the everyday to conjure up something invisible. Theatre is a kind of ritual, the summoning of a spirit of some kind. So we can say that the faith healer, who tries to heal the sick, could be compared to the artist, who’s asking an audience to suspend their disbelief. Like those going to a faith healer to be cured, when we go and see a play, we’re hoping that something miraculous will happen; we’re hoping that we’ll feel better, more sensitive and more aware by the end. So for me, Frank’s powers can be understood as being like those of a poet, a playwright or a painter; somebody who tries to awaken in their audience a sense of awe.
Kathy Kiera Carke as Grace, photo by Simon Annand
How do you think the play deals with the concept of faith?
Faith isn’t a Christian faith in this play; it’s faith in something bigger than ourselves. When I’ve had experiences like this in life it’s the closest I’ve come to feeling lightened, hopeful, curious and grateful. Wittgenstein said that faith is experience so finally my role is to help the audience experience the ocean, not just the island.
Faith Healer opens in Bristol Old Vic Studio on 27th January and runs until 5th March.
Performances: 7:30pm, plus 2:30pm matinees every Thurs and Sat, plus Tues 1st March. Shows on the 9th, 16th and 23rd Feb and 2nd March are at 7pm, and will be followed by a series of discussions under the banner Faith: The Big Debate.
For more information and tickets visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/1440.html or http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=184212521607993.
Interview by Eleanor Fogg, Assistant Director
Photographs by Simon Annand