Sunday, March 7, 2010

Says Who?

I started typing this post and somehow hit the wrong key and published it with just a subject line reading 'Says who?' with no blog post to follow. I took it down immediately, of couse.

So a blog post entitled 'Says Who' popped up and vanished again within less than a minute. I think I have a shot at the Turner Prize with this, it is daringly postmodern.


Anyway, the actual blog post is probably going to be very anti-climactic and a bit rubbish after the drama of my false start. But no matter, I don't usually let that stop me.

I went to see a play recently - Brian Friel's Faith Healer in the Gate Theatre in Dublin.

I had read the play before I saw it, but a very long time ago. I didn't remember anything much about it beyond the structure and the premise. The play consists of four monologues - the opening one is delivered by Frank Hardy, the faith healer of the title, the next by his wife/mistress Grace, the third by his manager, Teddy, and the final one again by Frank. And I remembered enjoying it, and I remembered looking at the dense blocks of text and flipping the pages and wondering how the hell an actor kept all that in their head at one time.

Because of the fact that it's made up of four long monologues (about half an hour each), I always assumed it would be a really tough play to watch. Turns out no. The cast (Owen Roe, Ingrid Craigie and Kim Durham) were excellent, and it was compelling - even though the entire play involves someone sitting on a stage chatting to you.

The great thing about this play, though, is the way that the points of view are used. First Frank shows up, and he tells you a few bits and pieces about himself, and his life on the road, and his family, and this-that-and-the-other. Then Grace gives her version of events and it's very different at some very crucial points, and you think 'Ah, that Frank - unreliable. Grace is more plausible. I believe her.' Then Teddy shows up with his version, and it contradicts both Frank and Grace in some places, and as he's the manager, not involved in the romantic relationship, you feel he's more objective so you start to believe him. . . but then Frank comes back. And at the end of the play, you have no idea what the truth is.

And the reason why the conflicting stories and points of view work so well is because everyone is so sure that they are right. Each story is told as the complete truth. Frank is probably the least reliable of them all - Grace and Teddy agree on a few things that he seems sure never happened. But when he's on stage, even for the last time, when Grace and Teddy have had their say, you still wonder.

I've written unreliable narrators before, but I've never written anything with conflicting points of view. I can imagine the challenges involved. Brian Friel does it brilliantly (would do, I suppose, what with being Brian Friel), and this post is mostly just to say that if you are ever writing something where different people have to describe the same thing in their own way, you could do worse than read Faith Healer. Because each one of them is totally plausible while they're actually talking.

Faith Healer is also just a really good play, and for something with such a challenging structure, it's surprisingly little work to watch it. I went to see Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night once, and while it was a rewarding experience, it was rewarding like doing a sponsored fast. You feel proud of yourself for having endured it, and you know that the experience has made you a better person, but it certainly wasn't any fun at the time. Faith Healer, on the other hand, is fun.

PS - After the play we were in the bar and the actors all came in. I plucked up all my courage and got Owen Roe's autograph (he played Frank) and while I was chatting to him, I said he had done an excellent job and that it must be so tough to keep such enormous blocks of text in your head. He smiled and said 'Nah, we just make it up as we go along.'


  1. Hi

    Thanks for introducing me to Brien Friel!

    This is a great review - got me wanting to read the play now.

    Long Day's Journey into Night - never seen the play, just the film version with Katherine Hepburn. Depressed the hell out of me!


    Take care

  2. I saw your comment on 'Unedited' and decided to stop by. And then saw that you're in Dublin (my old home) and go to the Gate (love the Gate!) so have decided that I have to follow you so I can read more :-)

  3. Kitty, glad I got you interested in Brian Friel - Philadelphia Here I Come is also good :)

    Sara Louise, thanks for the follow - I popped over to your blog and I hope you're getting on okay in Le Petit Village :) I don't speak any French at all, and as you know everyone in Ireland takes at least a couple of years of French in school and can say hello and goodbye. . . I took German instead and am terribly ashamed of myself now because it feels like I'm the only person in the history of time who doesn't speak any French (and of course, I've forgotten all my German!). My new year's resolution is to learn some French, so I've followed you back to see how you're getting on :)

  4. Great review I'm with Old Kitty I kind of want to read it now!

    Thanks for the comment on Tuesday Twist... The third story is rough and it's because the description is my own, it's for my story and it is a little rusty I find! I am practicing on creating a proper description (not well, but we'll get there!)

  5. Oh and just an FYI I changed the third synopsis a bit to see if that would make a difference to what people liked! Thanks for the advice it's super helpful!

  6. Brian Friel is wonderful. I love all his work. Jealous I won't see the play.

  7. Jen, glad to have been of some help - I do think it's a really interesting concept, and I like the new pitch a lot more :)

    Ann, the play had a very short run anyway, I went to one of the last performances. Very glad that I did!

  8. Awe thanks!! I redid it because you and I'm glad you enjoyed it more the second round! Just imagine how much better it will be when I'm finished with the book! LOL

  9. That's true, when the book is finished you'll have a better idea of the whole thing and that will help with the pitch. It sounds interesting though, I like how normal and mainstream Lauren sounds given the strange stuff that's going to happen to her!

  10. And there I was thinking the Twilight Zone of disappearing blog posts had affected your site as well!

  11. Nope, just stupid finger syndrome!


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