Saturday, February 05, 2011

Frank Hardy has a talent to heal. Or does he? Frank sometimes wonders, and Gracie almost dismisses the notion. But loyal promoter Teddy believes in Frank as an artist of healing, and stays with this fighting couple as they travel through a litany of the Celtic villages until one tumultuous night in Donegal which was, it seems, the last night of Frank’s life. We don’t know this for certain, but there’s much we don’t know about this man and his chaotic relationships with himself and those who love him: his woman, and his mystified, adoring, promoter.
Brian Friel's mesmeric and marvellous play Faith Healer, currently playing at the Bristol Old Vic, takes the form of separate speeches from these three key characters who never connect on stage, and whose long monologues each tell a dramatically different version of this story.
It may sound tough, but this production is luminous: a stunning script made unforgettable by brilliant acting especially from Finbar Lynch - totally charismatic as the flawed healer - and Richard Bremmer's loyal Teddy. The theme of faith, held and lost, is strong, but what emerges most forcefully and compassionately is the private and public struggle of the artist, and the quest for identity. Simon Godwin directed with wonderful simplicity and minimalist sets (Mike Britton) and shadowed lighting (Guy Hoare). Faith Healer is showing in the studio while the main house is refurbished, till 5th March - go if you can.

And now for something completely different. How would you direct Under Milk Wood if you believed spoken word inadequate to create imagery, mood, or story? Splice Productions decided to spice it up with slapdash comedy to distract the audience from the tedium of Dylan Thomas's words. How? Distractingly. I don't know about the rest of the tour, but at the Arc in Trowbridge a jovial audience readily took their cue to while away Captain Cat's reverie with noisy interruptions. Two excellent actors wasted their potential to entrance and the writer must have writhed in his grave.
"Think Dylan Thomas meets Round the Horne" the flyer suggests- that should have told me everything. Fern Hill and Fifties' Light Programme farce... not a good combo.

Better luck on Saturday: Miracle Theatre has been touring its winter show since November but there was no sign of flagging energy when Beauty and the Beast from Mars arrived in Frome. It’s the kind of show Miracle does best: a ramshackle contraption of simple ideas absurdly connected, strongly reliant for success on individual personalities and audience collusion. Such is their charm the last ingredient is readily forthcoming, so there was lots of interactive panto-style shouting and even mass singing of the Chin-Up song. The storyline, to use the term loosely, connects two 1960s phenomena: heart-throb male singing stars, and fears of alien invasion. Tom Adams as Bobby Beauty has hoola-hoop hips and a great voice, and the wonderful Ben Dyson is on best baleful form in an auburn wig as Major Bunty, in charge of the attack on Mars. When Beauty is abducted in retaliation by Martian Empress Bestiana (think Blackadder’s Queenie in Quant frock and green scales) the Major – who happens to be his mother - races after him on the Schadenfreude space probe, accompanied by number one fan Nurse Bumper… all ends happily of course, as the white heat of Bobby’s charisma can charm even the beastly empress, and the psycho-magnetically inserted pin number is retrieved in time to save the world. Lots of fun for everyone, nostalgia for oldies and double entendres about suction to delight the kids.

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