‘Who are the witches now?’ asks Caryl Churchill’s feminist play on witch-hunts and finger pointing in 17th century England. As the cattle die and the butter won’t churn, blame is inevitably placed at the feet of the village women who fail to conform to societal expectations. Accusations fly and tensions rise as more and more women are accused: the unwed mother, the cunning woman, the begging old widow. I’m sure you can guess what happens next.
Despite the predictable plotline, Vinegar Tom is a good piece of theatre. Characters are well developed and realistically conflicted; no one is completely blameless or an innocent victim. We understand that even the women accusers are themselves little more than products of their time; as a woman, they must choose to be the predator or the prey.
Vinegar Tom is a little like The Crucible on speed but with an angry woman at the helm. Between scenes, members of the cast sing angry, raging songs about sluts and blame and female genitalia. (Thankfully, they become less awkward as the play progresses and the audience knows what’s coming.) The cast throw themselves into the production and seem to enjoy every minute, the final scene in particular is a spectacle to behold.
The overall standard of acting was high and they worked well performing in the round. The band were also very slick. Vinegar Tom is a play that continues to raise important questions about gender roles in society and I’m a fan of any production that dares to break out the c-word (especially through the medium of song). Warwick University Drama Society should be applauded for selecting it and meeting it head on. A solid A+ for effort.