Brian Friel's mesmerising quartet of monologues Faith Healer now notches up a trilogy of London appearances. It has been seen here every decade since it was first premiered at Dublin's Abbey Theatre in 1980, transferring to London's Royal Court in 1981, revived there in 1992, and now to be found again at the Almeida at King's Cross.
It's a remarkable production history for a play that is only 21 years old to have had three major outings so far; but then this is a remarkable play, and there will doubtless be many more productions yet. That's partly because of the wonderful acting opportunities it affords for three middle-aged actors. But more than that, it goes to the essence of theatre, which is to do with the sheer power of storytelling and bearing witness to events - strange, mysterious and powerful - that even its tellers don't fully comprehend.
Faith Healer is, in other words, about the act as well as the art of communication - a journey completed by the audience hearing these stories - but one in which we are only tentatively apprised of the facts through the viewpoints of the different speakers.
Frank - known on the posters as The Fantastic Francis Hardy - is the Irish faith healer of the title, touring remote villages of Wales and Scotland dispensing his gifts, which may indeed be miraculous or purely accidental. They're certainly promoted as much about showbusiness as they are for their spiritual qualities. Are they, as critic Fintan O'Toole asks in a programme note, chance or skill? Illusion or delusion?
As played by Ken Stott in a performance, of tremendous depth and great humanity, that both opens and closes the play, the doubts of the man are brutally laid bare; but there is no doubt at all about the skill of this brilliant actor.
In between, we get the story from the perspective of his wife Grace and manager Teddy. Geraldine James exudes calm but bitter disappointment at the journey she has found herself on with Frank. But the bravura turn of the evening turns out to be Ian McDiarmid's chameleon-like assumption of Teddy. This is one of the finest, funniest and most touching performances on the London stage.
Faith Healer is not an easy evening by any means: its two, interval-free hours demand close attention. But Jonathan Kent's spellbinding production repays the effort.
- Mark Shenton