Fast at Park Theatre
Set in Washington State in the 1910s, Kate Barton’s Fast is a powerful retelling of an episode in Linda Hazzard’s life as a quack. Promising to cure various diseases through extreme fasting over numerous weeks, her methods ultimately led to the death of at least 18 patients. Barton’s retelling concentrates on the most famous case, that of Dora and Claire Williamson, the latter having died of starvation. Overall, this performance is a haunting and horrifying portrayal of Hazzard’s hazardous treatments.
Director Kate Valentine and her expert team guarantee a chilling production, incorporating dark and sombre lighting design by Ben Bull and beautifully claustrophobic set design by Emily Bestow, both of whom use many dark blue and grey colours to increase the sense of dread as the plot progresses towards its inevitable tragedy. Various creepy sound effects by David Chilton add to the general sense of horror, creating a perfectly crafted aesthetic which will remain with the audience for a long time.
The cast, too, are exceedingly powerful. Caroline Lawrie as Hazzard is especially apt, at times appearing as a dominant manipulator and at others as a caring mother-like figure, possibly not far off what one would have expected from her historical counterpart. Natasha Cowley as Dora and Jordan Stevens as Claire are constantly believable and seem perfectly selected as health-aware sisters who would inadvertently sign up for their doom. Daniel Norford as Horace Cayton – who brings Hazzard to justice – also demonstrates prowess as a likeable journalist.
It’s surprising how much Fast resonates even today. Although the history may not be particularly well-known on this side of the pond, contemporary health obsession and almost daily proclamations of the newest miracle diet to solve one’s problems should certainly strike a chord with a modern audience; the play reminds us what the consequences can be when these trends are taken to the extreme.
A bit of minor criticism is that while the plot, for the most part, unfolds at a great pace and never ceases to be interesting, there are a few moments throughout which feel drawn out, which is particularly noticeable given the short runtime, and the ending, conversely, is a bit rushed. But these are minor quibbles in face of a play which is both fascinating and entertaining and will certainly encourage its viewers to seek out more information about the real Linda Hazzard.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Fast is at Park Theatre from 15th October until 9th November 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.