Sunday, March 7, 2010
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.'