Blog Post Image Kate Barton

Interview with Kate Barton

This week we caught up with co-writer and originator of Fast, Kate Barton, to get her thoughts on some of the key themes in her play and how they are still relevant today.

This week we caught up with co-writer and originator of Fast, Kate Barton, to get her thoughts on some of the key themes in her play and how they are still relevant today.

What inspired you to write the play?

I was studying for a Masters at Cambridge University and as part of my dissertation, I was asked to present ideas for an extended piece of creative writing.  I knew I’d write for performance as my background is within the theatre, and I’m also naturally drawn to strange pieces of history.  I came across Hazzard’s disturbing life story on a history podcast and I vividly remember that her face haunted me. I knew early on that such a manipulative character would work well with a theatrical audience.

Tell us about the success the play has already enjoyed?

Fast has been on a huge journey since Cambridge and I certainly couldn’t have anticipated it at the start.  It was picked up quickly and was short-listed for Best New Play at the Brighton Fringe in 2018.  It went on to get 4* and 5* reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and then transferred to London in 2019, where the team won two Offies.   

What prompted you to expand the play into a full-length production?

Fast was initially conceived as a very pacey 50 minute play and this worked well for the strict time constraints of the Edinburgh Fringe venues.  We extended it for the first London production, but I was aware that I didn’t want to add scenes for the sake of it.  When it was picked up by Stephen Leslie Productions, I knew it was an opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the story and Stephen Bennett and I examined the play again and took on board feedback from the journey thus far.  The extension came naturally as we delved deeper into a particular ‘real’ character’s back story.  We also bought in an extra person in the sanitarium and found ways to return to earlier, smaller threads in the story.  It was a wonderful process!

Can you tell us a little more about the central character?

Hazzard is incredibly complex: highly manipulative, intelligent, outwardly self-assured and more than a little beguiling.  She lived at a time when few women had a medical licence and she was determined to hold her ground in a man’s world.  Hazzard was certainly an enigma: as a ‘doctor’ she had success with patients and she was certainly admired by her acolytes.  But she was also a person whose methods provoked fierce debate.  She was constantly in and out of the papers, starting with the trial of her husband for bigamy (she supported him) and moving on to puff pieces for her clinic and her self-published book, small articles jabbing at her treatment process and then wider coverage of her treatment of the wealthy English sisters…

It must have been challenging operating as a female health practitioner at that time.  Does the play explore this?

It is of course true that there were very few women who were practising within the medical field, but Hazzard did have some training in osteopathy and she was able to obtain a professional licence due to a legal loophole.  She wasn’t the only person exploring fasting: John Harvey Kellogg, of the famous cereal brand, also had a vast ‘wellness’ clinic in Michigan that was incredibly popular for its fasting protocols.  I think that’s important to note, as she wasn’t operating in a vacuum.  The play explores Hazzard’s own feelings about being a woman in a male-dominated environment and much of it is inspired by the answers she gave to reporters during her trial. 

What was it about Hazzard that drew people in and are there comparable scenarios today?

That’s an interesting question and it can perhaps be answered in two ways.  It is documented that Hazzard gave many talks about her methods to groups of admirers, and she certainly had some wealthy and influential disciples.  Her own book, ‘Fasting for the Cure of Disease’ details numerous successful treatments and she re-printed several times.  As a writer, one cannot expect to find every answer in historical research.  It was decided early on that she would draw people in to her public talks with her oratory skills: her ability to confidently engage a crowd.  I do think it was a belief in her authority as a medical professional that stopped people from questioning her actions and that is certainly comparable with some medical scenarios today. 

Fasting for health benefits continues to be a fad in 2024.  Do you think Hazzard was onto something?

I have certainly asked myself that question over the years and particularly whenever an article appears about an intermittent diet such as the ever popular 5:2. Whilst I am not a medical professional, I have read countless news articles and social media posts that champion intermittent fasting and know many people who extol the benefits of eating within a certain time frame.  Hazzard and Kellogg were certainly ahead of their time in exploring the idea that what we put into our body impacts on our physical and mental health, but as to their particular ‘purification’ methods, I think I’ll have to leave that to our audience to decide!  

We’d like to thank Kate for taking time to discuss her play and share her thoughts on some of the common themes which are still highly relevant today.  You can catch Fast at Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre from 29th October – 17th November.

More News

Interview with Stephen Bennett
This week we caught up with Fast co-writer and director Stephen Bennett to get his thoughts on the play, and how he plans to bring it life on stage in October this year.
<em>Interview with William Motley</em>
This week we caught up with writer William Motley to discuss how attitudes towards equality have changed since the early nineteenth century when Gay Pride And No Prejudice is set. 

Join our Mailing list!

Signup for our mailing list to hear the latest Stephen Leslie news.