Review: In Health and In Sickness, The History of the Bartlet, Black and White Productions, touring until July 5

'The Bartlet Sisters' - Stephanie Stoddart, Naomi Doust, Suzanne Hawkes in the play In Sickness and

'The Bartlet Sisters' - Stephanie Stoddart, Naomi Doust, Suzanne Hawkes in the play In Sickness and In Health about the Bartlet Hospital. - Credit: Archant

Poignant and moving, the story of Felixstowe’s much-loved Bartlet hospital has been brought to life.

In the latest offering by Suffolk playwright Suzanne Hawkes, the action focuses on the legacy left to the East Suffolk community by Dr John Henry Bartlet.

Exploring the reasons behind his decision, the play explains why Dr Bartlet decided to leave his fortune to build a convalescent home by the sea – to ensure rest, fresh air and a nutritious diet for those, particularly working women, recovering from surgery or illness.

The legacy was put in place after Bartlet’s death in 1917 by hospital secretary Arthur Griffiths and Munro Cautley and the Bartlet doors officially opened in 1926.

Impressively well researched and liberally peppered with humour and music, In Health and In Sickness pays appropriate tribute to Bartlet himself as well as the hospital that touched so many lives.

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Using stories of former nurses, staff and patients as well as the well-documented 10-year battle to keep the Bartlet open, the play charts the heyday as well as the decline of the hospital until its closure in 2008.

Broadly sympathetic to the cause of the protesters who tried so hard to save the hospital, the play recalls the consultation documents, the visits to parliament, the petitions, the protests, and the tactics of faceless bureaucrats – neatly portrayed by actors in masks – in the face of overwhelming public opposition to closure.

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Energetic, eclectic and entertaining, this is also an amusing and engaging piece of theatre.

The cast have clearly worked extremely hard bringing alive the characters that worked there including the imperious Matron Jenkins and the kindly secretary Lizzie Howe – all held together by the glue of narrator Stan.

The additions of music, singing and humour in particular made this subject lively and enjoyable.

In Health and in Sickness ensures that Dr Bartlet’s remarkable legacy and the story of the institution he left behind lives on. James Marston

In Health and In Sickness will be peformed at Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, today; Orwell Hotel, Felixstowe, July 2; New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich, July 3-5.

Tickets £9 and £8 from 01394 279613.

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