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Pitlochry Festival Theatre keep faith in their critically-acclaimed version of Brian Friel play Faith Healer starring George Costigan ahead of the start of its Highlands and Islands tour – with shows in Clashmore near Dornoch, Ullapool and Inverness

By Kyle Walker

THEATRE never stops – that’s a basic truism of the artform that has Faith Healer director – and Pitlochry Festival Theatre artistic director – Elizabeth Newman speaking from London about the production.

Speaking during two days off for the production, currently in the middle of its opening run at the Perthshire theatre, she’s already getting plates spinning for the company’s next production.

But Elizabeth can definitely appreciate the success of what Pitlochry has put out into the world first – their production of Irish playwright Brian Friel’s classic script has received critical acclaim across the national press ahead of the start of its Highland tour next week.

“It’s gone brilliantly!” she exclaimed. “We’ve had incredible feedback from audiences and critics, so it’s been great.

“Everyone’s been very moved by the production, they’ve also found it quite funny in places, so we’ve been thrilled with the response. And it seems to have really spoken to people and connected to them, which is why I’m incredibly excited about heading further up to the Highlands and Islands – I’m hoping that people are going to really love hearing the story and being together.

“So yeah, it’s exciting to be venturing to you!”

It has been 40 years since the first ever production of Faith Healer – Friel’s study of the titular healer Francis Hardy as monologued unreliably by himself, his wife and his stage manager.

This revival of the play – featuring Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Happy Valley star George Costigan in the title role – will see it tour around many of the towns and villages that the characters visit, the small Scottish towns and villages where Hardy makes his living.

It’s a play that Elizabeth has been looking to produce for some time. “Years ago George Costigan and I spoke about doing Faith Healer, because both of us love the play.

“What’s brilliant about it is that it kind of puts audiences under a spell. You sit down and you meet these three people and they tell you about their lives, and in the actor telling us, they learn about themselves and about the world.

“And the way Friel has written it, it’s a kind of mystery play. So you don’t really know who’s telling the truth – are they all telling the truth? Because, you know, what is truth? So it sort of has this, it’s just a fantastic play.

And the tour around the Highlands – produced in conjunction with Inverness’s Eden Court theatre – was important to Elizabeth too. “It’s funny because Friel said in the play itself that the Celtic temperament is far more inclined to faith healing.

“And I think there’s something about the fact that the play is talking about going to places near Pitlochry. All the places that we’re visiting, those are the places that Frank and Grace and Teddy went to do the faith healing.”

The play is built around a series of monologues from the three characters, and Elizabeth wanted to ensure that each character’s voice remained undiminished. “The three actors and myself worked through together, but that was only a few days.

“And then I rehearsed with them all separately, because I thought it was really important for them to have their own truth and their own identities and we only really came back together for the final few days of rehearsals.

“So they hadn’t seen what any of the others were doing, which was really important – because I think they then heard the information a-fresh that could support what they were doing but they hadn’t been so influenced by another person either.

“Because in the end these people are on their own talking to the audience, and that’s such a special thing.”

Faith Healer begins its Highlands and Islands tour at the Carnegie Hall, Clashmore, near Dornoch on Tuesday. Later dates include the Macphail Centre, Ullapool on Friday, November 8; and three nights at Eden Court, Inverness from Thursday, November 14 to Saturday, November 16. Tickets for all dates are available from www.eden-court.co.uk

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