I always enjoy a visit to the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. It has a lovely atmosphere and presents a great range of productions which always have interesting staging. There are two theatres – the main Park200 downstairs and Park90 (a tiny space upstairs that is often used for new or experimental writing). As one would expect this leads to productions ranging from the weird to the wonderful.
This play sits firmly in the former category.
Based on the true story of “Dr” Linda Hazzard, the play is set in 1910. “Dr” Hazzard believed that all diseases could be cured by fasting and opened a clinic near Washington to treat patients using her bizarre methods. While some people undertook her “cures” and became proponents of her treatment, it is believed that she was responsible for the deaths of 40 patients who starved while in her care.
The play focuses on two young British sisters, Claire and Dorothea Williamson who while traveling the world decided to check in to Linda Hazzard’s sanatorium. The play also introduces an investigative journalist, Horace, who is determined to get to the bottom of what is going on in the clinic, which locals have dubbed starvation heights.
Caroline Lawrie is extremely creepy in the role of Linda Hazzard; she plays her straight out of a Hammer House of Horrors film!! The character comes across as barking mad and it is very hard to believe that anyone would have trusted their health to her.
Jordan Stevens and Natasha Cowley play Claire and Dora Williamson and both are good in what are quite lightly written roles. Daniel Norford does the best he can with the role of the journalist, but this too is a thinly written character.
The play zips along at a short 70 minutes but doesn’t really engage in the way that it could have. It is a little bit “play by numbers” – this happened, then this happened, then this happened. We see very little of the motivation of any of the characters. There is no real background provided to any of them. The play simply details a time and place where these characters came across each other. There is no attempt to explain why Hazzard did what she did, nor any suggestions as to why the sisters stayed and continued on the treatment.
It is an interesting and horrendous story that could perhaps be developed into a longer production with more depth.
Plaudits to the stage designer and set creators who once again use the tiny space to great effect.
Review by Emma Heath
Photo: Manuel Harlan
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