Arts

Toby Jones for FrielFest: Detectorists star to appear in Brian Friel's Faith Healer

Detectorists star Toby Jones will be among the top talents performing at this year's Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival. David Roy spoke to one of today's best-loved actors about tackling his role in Friel's classic three-hander, Faith Healer

Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook in the hit BBC comedy Detectorists

HAVING amassed an impressive collection of stage and screen credits during his acting career, Toby Jones can currently be seen in cinemas everywhere as the villain in CGI blockbuster Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

One of the most recognisable and respected actors working today, Hammersmith-born Jones (51) has played supporting roles in the likes of the Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Captain America and Hunger Games series.

Notable leads include his turns as Truman Capote in Infamous (2006) and Alfred Hitchcock in The Girl (2012), plus memorable top billings in creepy cult classic Berberian Sound Studio (2012), psychological thriller Kaleidoscope (2016, directed by Jones's brother Rupert) and his Bafta-winning portrayal of middle-aged metal detecting enthusiast Lance in much loved BBC TV hit Detectorists.


In just over two weeks' time, Jones will be delighting Irish fans by participating in this year's Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival – his first time working here since playing a beady-eyed security man in Colin McIvor's Belfast-shot family adventure Zoo, released in cinemas last month.

At FrielFest, Jones will be starring alongside fellow London-born Olivier Award winner Rory Kinnear (best known as Bill Tanner in the Daniel Craig Bond films) and Belfast-born actress Laura Donnelly (who won a Olivier Award this year for her role in Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman) in a Co Donegal staging of Friel's 1979 monologue-based play Faith Healer.

It centres on Frank (Kinnear), a travelling faith healer who has been working across Scotland and Wales. During the course of the play, Teddy, Frank's wife Grace (Donnelly) and Frank himself all recite their differing memories of these healings, gradually revealing the details of a terrible event.

Despite a lengthy stage career including his Olivier Award-winning turn in the Kenneth Branagh-directed comedy The Play What I Wrote and his own acclaimed one-man show Missing Reel – about how his cameo in hit movie Notting Hill ended up on the cutting room floor – apparently Faith Healer will mark Jones's debut in a Friel-penned work.

"I've never done any before, so I'm really excited," reveals the University of Manchester and Jacques Lecoq International Theatre School trained actor of his upcoming stint at FrielFest from August 17 to 19.

"But I have seen some stuff: I remember at university seeing Translations for the first time at the Contact Theatre in Manchester and I took my daughter to see the recent production at The National because I know the director of that [Ian Rickson, who directed Jones in the acclaimed revival of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party earlier this year] very well.

"The production at The National is one of the very best things I've seen recently, actually."

Of Faith Healer, he adds: "I'm trying to persuade one of my daughters who's just done [Friel classic] Philadelphia, Here I Come! for A-level to come and watch it, but she may not be able to.

"It's a remarkable, strange departure for Friel in a way. Obviously, it feels connected to his other work, but it also feels so mysterious. I'm looking forward to exploring the play in this context."

Indeed, the 'promenade' nature of Faith Healer means that Jones, Kinnear and Donnelly will not actually get to perform together – the trio will perform their parts separately, with audiences bused between locations in Edininfagh, Portnoo, Ardara and Glenties.

According to the Detectorists star, the solitary nature of the piece also extends to rehearsals as well.

"I'm told that there's no director and that we don't meet each other, so we prepare separately," Jones explains. "Now, weirdly, I think Rory lives down the road from me, so I'm going to try not to meet him. Maybe we'll meet each other for a drink after each show, but it'll be quite odd – I'll sort of be preparing on my own.

"I'm really looking forward to that experimental side of it. I've never done [a monologue] before, so I'm really grateful for this opportunity."

Toby Jones fans are a passionate bunch who can usually reel off his top performances on command, while truly hardcore Jones devotees will even furnish you with a list of 'Noby Jones' moments: otherwise subpar features into which he manages to infuse a little quality (take a bow The Snowman and Atomic Blonde).

While this concept has been popularised by listeners of BBC 5Live's top-rated radio programme Kermode & Mayo's Film Review, it seems Jones himself is somewhat unclear about 'Noby Jones'.

"Someone mentioned this to me the other day – what does that mean?" he enquires, sounding slightly alarmed.

Upon hearing our explanation, using recent Michael Fassbender-starring misfire The Snowman as a prime example, Jones becomes bashful.

"Oh, that's very nice, I don't know what to say about that – I'm blushing!" he offers, before going on to elaborate on his own experience filming the ill-reviewed Jo Nesbo adaptation helmed by Tomas Alfredson, who previously directed Jones in 2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

"I was very sad about The Snowman," Jones says of the 2017 thriller. "I think Thomas Alfredson is one of the greatest directors I've ever worked with, so when that didn't work out for whatever reason I was very very disappointed."

He's also full of praise for his director on Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, JA Bayona (The Orphanage).

"He's fantastic," enthuses Jones. "Obviously he comes from European cinema and he's very well known for psychological horror. When I went to meet him he said he was going to try and bring some of those techniques into this franchise.

"I think, having seen the film, that you can see that he does come from a slightly different school of cinema. Obviously there's a lot of compromises when you make a franchise movie for huge mass consumption, but you can still tell that a different kind of director is at work on it."


Getting back to FrielFest, the always in-demand Londoner explains how he was only able to commit to Faith Healer as the dates "fell perfectly into my schedule" – a schedule currently dominated by work on his forthcoming 'dark comedy' TV project Don't Forget The Driver, co-written with experimental theatre-maker Tim Crouch.

"Tim grew up in Bognor Regis and was fascinated by seeing coach drivers hanging around waiting for their passengers to return from whatever sight they were seeing," explains Jones, who will star as single-dad coach driver Peter in the six-part BBC2 series set to air later this year.

"The idea immediately appealed to me: you've got this thing of the world of the coach driver who gets to take a different population or constituency to a different part of the UK each week.

"It's certainly not going to be a political show, it's a character-driven comedy, but it allows us to say something without saying it, in a way, about Britain and the people who are looking at Britain."

Having already played in Doctor Who, the Harry Potter films (he voiced Dobby The House Elf) and the recent Dad's Army remake, Jones voices the character of Owl in the forthcoming Winnie The Pooh movie, Christopher Robin.

In the past, he's mentioned another icon of British popular culture as a key inspiration for his acting career: David McKee's 1970s animated favourite, Mr Benn.


With the 50th anniversary of this beloved dress-up dimension jumper's screen debut fast approaching, rumours of a possible live action adaptation are beginning to circulate.

"If someone asked me to do Mr Benn I'd put it at the top of the queue," enthuses Jones.

"It was such a brilliant show, I absolutely adored it. Oh man, it had a profound impact on my imagination as a kid. I got the DVD when my kids were young so I've seen them all so many times now.

"If you can pull any strings David, I'd be very,  very grateful."

The campaign starts here.

:: Faith Healer, August 17 to 19, Lughnasa FrielFest: Brian Friel International Festival. Tickets and full festival information via Artsoverborders.com

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