Gina Costigan: ‘The Irish have a tendency towards darkness’
On this week at the Cambridge Arts Theatre is Faith Healer, which tells the story of the titular character Frank Hardy and his wife, Grace, who travel to remote corners of the United Kingdom spreading his ‘gift’, before eventually returning to Frank’s native Ireland.
Written by acclaimed Irish playwright and author Brian Friel, the play, generally considered to be Friel’s masterpiece, is set in the 1950s and 60s and stars Irish actors Paul Carroll as Frank and Gina Costigan as Grace.
Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from Musselburgh in Scotland, one of the stops on the tour, Gina says it’s been going “fantastic” and adds: “It’s been amazing seeing the various different responses in the different towns.
“And it’s interesting in the sense that it’s about this faith healer, Francis Hardy, and his wife Grace and his manager Teddy [played here by Jonathan Ashley] and in the story we travel around a lot of Wales and Scotland, touring with the faith healer, so it’s a little bit of life imitating art in that regard.”
On what drew her to the play, Gina, whose mother is actress Maria McDermottroe, says: “It’s such a classic and one of Friel’s most celebrated plays, so when I heard it was going on I was really anxious to audition, and I think playing Grace is one of those characters that you really would hope to get to play at some stage.
“I was thrilled because she’s a very complex character but very, very strong and a challenge also, so it was brilliant and I was very drawn to the character.”
Gina, who has appeared in numerous films and television series over the years, including Veronica Guerin, starring Cate Blanchett, and the Anne Hathaway vehicle Becoming Jane, notes that there have been many productions of Faith Healer staged in the past and that she is following in the footsteps of actresses such as Helen Mirren and Gina McKee, “really incredible actresses who have already played this role”.
She adds: “I had seen none of those productions but I knew the text and it deals with a lot of twisted narratives and shifting perspectives told from each individual side, and it challenges the notion of truth and mistruth, so I found it fascinating in that regard.
“Being a three-character play, when I first started reading it, I was like, ‘I wonder how this will hold me’ and it very much did, in just how the narrative opens up.”
StageTalk magazine describes Faith Healer as a “deliciously dark drama… an intense and absorbing experience”, though Gina notes that it does contain moments of humour.
“The Irish have a tendency towards the darkness,” says the actress, “and it definitely doesn’t shy away from that… So there is levity but the faith healer is a very complicated character.
“He struggles a lot in terms of his own belief in his gift, or art or craft – however it will be termed – and it has been said that Friel wrote it as a way of dealing with his own sense of Imposter Syndrome as a writer, as we all often deal with being actors, writers, directors and so forth.
“It seems to very much go hand-in-hand, not only in the arts but very much in life and in our careers and, it is believed, one of the train of thoughts is that he wrote it dealing with that sense of Imposter Syndrome himself.”
Who would Faith Healer appeal to? “I really just think anyone who has an interest in theatre,” replies Gina, “and also I think it kind of takes you by surprise…
“The thing I would say about the play and how the narrative unfolds and dealing with shifting realities, shifting truths, it’s very much not what we expect.
“It deals with memory in quite a complex way and you’re constantly questioning one particular thing, and in that sense it’s fascinating.”
Faith Healer is on now at the Cambridge Arts Theatre and runs until this Saturday (November 4). Tickets, priced £20-£35, are available at cambridgeartstheatre.com.