Nova Scotia

New play, Butterscotch Palace, set in Sydney's former psychiatric hospital

A Halifax-based playwright has set his latest work in a former Cape Breton landmark, a psychiatric hospital near Sydney called the Butterscotch Palace because of its distinctive colour.

Playwright interested in the social perception of depression

Playwright Ryan Van Horne says he was "mesmerized" by stories of the Cape Breton Hospital, locally known as the Butterscotch Palace. (Goran Todorovic)

A Halifax-based playwright has set his latest work in a former Cape Breton landmark, a psychiatric hospital near Sydney colloquially known as the Butterscotch Palace because of its distinctive colour.

Ryan Van Horne says his play, Butterscotch Palace, is a confluence of three ideas he'd been toying with as themes: how people treat their loved ones and friends with depression, music therapy as a mental-health treatment and the hospital itself.

He first heard about the Butterscotch Palace — formally the Cape Breton Hospital — on a visit to Sydney a few years ago, Van Horne says.

It had been demolished years earlier but was still part of the local lore.

Personal stories folded in

He began researching by reaching out to people on social media who had personal memories of the place and recalls becoming "mesmerized by the stories."

The saddest were those about patients who were committed to the hospital and never released again.

"Some of the patients who went there never received visits from loved ones," he said. "Many of the patients who died there didn't get claimed by their family, so they had to be buried in a cemetery out behind the Butterscotch Palace. All of these stories are folded into the play."

The play centres on a woman committed to the hospital for a two-week assessment of a mild form of depression. A hospital cleaner befriends her and an unscrupulous doctor looks for a way to keep her in the hospital longer to bolster his drug trials.

Butterscotch Palace is on the schedule of the Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax, beginning Sept. 1.

It's to be staged Sept. 1-3, 6, 10 and 11.

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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