Between Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s traditional summer repertory season and large-scale Christmas show, artistic director Elizabeth Newman’s introduction of a mid-autumn play appears on the surface to be merely a holding appetiser; a small-cast, short-run repertory piece to keep local audiences involved.
In practice, however, it’s hard to imagine a more transfixing and thought-provoking version of Brian Friel’s signature play being brought to a stage. Presented 40 years after Faith Healer was first performed in Boston, this interpretation pivots upon George Costigan’s performance as travelling faith healer Francis Hardy, who journeys around the village halls of Scotland, Wales and eventually his native Ireland to confront a dark destiny upon his homecoming.
In smart salesman’s suit and ill-fitting raincoat, Costigan – widely familiar for his screen roles in Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Gentleman Jack and Happy Valley – is mesmerising as Francis, walking the line between self-doubt and conviction, a spill over either side of which will tell him whether his life’s work has been divine calling or delusion.
The three-handed cast is completed by Kirsty Stuart (seen earlier this year alongside Costigan in The Duchess [of Malfi] at the Lyceum in Edinburgh), who brings tragic passion as Francis’ besotted but ill-fated wife Grace, and Richard Standing as his cockney manager Teddy, whose bystander’s perspective allows him to express the most comedic and horrifying perspectives.
Under Newman’s direction and Jeanine Byrne’s imperceptibly subtle lighting changes, this quartet of finely performed monologues bears the perfect weight and balance: every beat, every silence, every matter-of-fact detail lending gravitas to an evocation of life’s intertwining and conflicting human narratives.
It’s easy to reflect that Friel’s story of blind faith and desperate hope in a figure who may be charlatan or saviour has extra relevance in 2019, but writing and performance this good simply doesn’t age or slip in and out of fashion.