Vinegar Tom

Caryl Churchill

Warwick University Drama Society

C Nova

From 31 July 2013 to 13 August 2013

Rating: ****

Review by Robin Strapp

Carol Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, written in 1976 as a response to the 1970 Women’s Rights Act, is set in the 17th century where four women are accused of witchcraft.

It is a visceral play that explores the place of women in society and the power that men have in oppressing them and treating them as chattels. It also examines society’s rejection of people who do not conform to the mainstream or are considered as different.

Practical and destitute Joan (Poppy Jermaine) is accused by Jack (Alex Welsh) and Margery (Maria Hildebrand) of putting curses upon them and their cattle.

As to Joan’s cat, the Vinegar Tom of the title, Margery believes that he is Joan’s “familiar” and they become the scapegoats for the villagers.

Young Alice (Charlotte Clitherow) is deeply dissatisfied with the drudgery of this hard, provincial life and has a baby born out of wedlock to raise. To make matters worse, Jack also denounces her for bewitching him and elderly Ellen (Rebecca Ward), the local midwife and skilled purveyor of herbs and words of wisdom, also accuses Alice of witchcraft.

The tensions between them are palpable as the plot twists and turns with mis-understandings and superstitions.

Warwick University Drama Society’s acerbic production is performed with pace and commitment from a talented cast who give totally believable performances with a vibrant original score from Ronan Hatful played live by a versatile, on-stage band.

With sound ensemble work and using Brechtian techniques with courage and flair, this is gripping theatre.