Review of Fast at Park Theatre
PUBLISHED: 16:28 17 October 2019
Drama about the Edwardian scandal of a diet regime that killed patients fails to explore either motivations or echoes with modern health crazes
In 1912, American "medical practitioner" Linda Burfield Hazzard published her book (part treatise, part sales brochure) expounding the health benefits of fasting.
English sisters, and heiresses, Dora and Claire Williamson, on a world tour in search of elusive "wellness", seized on Fasting for the Cure of Disease and booked themselves into Hazzard's sinister sounding Wilderness Clinic for a six week programme of brutal ministrations.
The results would be terrible and fatal.
Hazzard was part of the great tradition of mountebanks (there's one in Hamlet), charlatans, snake-oil salesmen, grifters and quacks who prosper to this day.
They feed on insecurities, offer understanding, comfort and cure. While Dora and Claire (played with comedy and pathos by Natasha Cowley and Jordon Stevens) suffered the pain of an enema, a century later Princess Di and Jennifer Anniston trumpeted (sorry!) the benefits of colonic irrigation.
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Arguably, Hazzard was different. Establishing a clinic and charging gullible punters to be starved to death is different from selling omnicures from the back of a wagon before leaving a few dozen people with upset stomachs.
What she did was sadistic, calculated murder. The Seattle press (in the person of the tenacious reporter Horace Cayton, excellently played by Daniel Norford) eventually exposed her, but she had friends in high places and her murder conviction was overturned.
There is so much in this play: the motivation and character of Hazzard (played with Gothic menace by the fabulous Caroline Lawrie); the willingness of the vulnerable to be exploited (victims tended to be women); and the role of the press.
Sadly, in just over 70 minutes, none of these aspects was satisfyingly explored in an otherwise well produced work.
Under Kate Valentine's direction there were times when the action went flat and it felt under-rehearsed.
And despite an evocative set that conjures a clinical Edwardian asylum it felt Fast would make a better radio drama or, with an extra 30 minutes playwright Kate Barton might develop her themes to explore what drove both predator and victims.