Vinegar Tom

Wed 31st July – Tue 13th August 2013

reviews

Amber Segal

at 09:11 on 3rd Aug 2013

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“Why me?” laments Jack (Alex Welsh), as his wife (Maria Hildebrand) writhes on the floor in agony, thus articulating the central irony of Warwick University Drama Society’s production of 'Vinegar Tom'. Comparing the plight of women with their vicious and whinging husbands/lovers/priests during England’s 17th century sounds somewhat trite, but the energy of the actors, musicians and Caryl Churchill’s script provides the punk promised on the flyer.

Where a sisterhood is far from sight and everyone is cursing everyone, this piece explores layers of persecution and blame with varied success. While some scenes had real emotional depth, others were more hurried-over with lines being lost to one another. Use of space in the ‘in-the-round’ stage was also to blame as voices did not always carry- a shame for such a small venue. Additionally, a vital moment was completely hidden from view due to the unfortunate positioning of a character. Her voice sounding both defiant and close to tears, Charlotte Clitherow did an excellent job in the rebellious role of Alice. The star, for me, was Rebecca Ward whose arresting first appearance on stage left a lasting impression that sets the tone for the rest of the play.

The intensity of the witch-hunt drama is broken at unexpected intervals by songs, all performed in wonderfully Brechtian t-shirts. Not only sung by the women, these tie together the story with the modern day, for example the un-pc and prescient ‘Find something to Burn’ sung by Joshua Beckman and the beautiful duet of ‘Nobody Loves a Slut’. These songs in particular have shown no sign of ageing since it was written. I left wondering if the lyrics had been penned by WUDS, but, no, they appear in the original script. This leaves us thinking not only about the progress from the 17th century to the 1970s but within the last forty years. Again, some songs were more memorable than others and musically they felt slightly repetitive by the end.

As someone partial to both feminism and black comedy, I approached 'Vinegar Tom' with excitement and was mostly satisfied. At times, however, I found the on-stage violence too painful and prolonged periods of earnestness jarred with occasional laughter. For example, Goody’s (Bryony Davies) monologue, though well delivered, seemed unnecessarily long when other scenes had clearly been pared to the bone.

Although rough around the edges, the play finishes with a bang. Full of surprises, it retains strong, in-your-face ideals without preaching and definitely has its heart in the right place.

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Rose Bonsier

at 09:24 on 3rd Aug 2013

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Warwick University Drama Society created a fresh and different interpretation of Caryl Churchill's play in their performance of 'Vinegar Tom'. Half dark drama and half punk-rock musical, director George Want has very much put his own stamp on it to create a piece that was admirably open and direct in addressing the audience.

The group drew out the play's feminist overtones in a beautifully ironic way with their self-written songs that played upon the seemingly timeless stereotype of women as 'sluts' and the historical judgment that many of them were witches. The switch between the action and the song may have been a bit too much of a jump simply because of the drastic stylistic differences between the two, but overall it made a nice impact in conveying its message to the audience.

The use of live music with a four piece band in the room was a great touch, and certainly livened the play up and provided an interesting way of almost externally commenting on the story. Because the same actors were singing with the band and performing in the play, t-shirts with slogans were worn during the musical performances as a clever switch that showed the actors moving in and out of character. One concern I had was that the switching between the two would make it hard to maintain characterisation throughout the performance, but the actors didn’t seem to find this a problem and moved confidently between their character and singing persona.

This performance's interpretation of the play itself was very dark and simply yet effectively staged with minimal set. Whilst I felt that on the whole it needed more rehearsal and that this would have aided delivery in some cases, there was plenty of emotion behind the performances. One scene which was particularly striking was Jack's vicious attack of Alice after believing that she'd cursed him. This was played out with great drama by Alex Welsh, Charlotte Clitherow and Juliet Clark, and the terror and violence of the scene was conveyed well to the audience.

This production of 'Vinegar Tom' wound up with a Cabaret number at the end, which again was at odds with the rest of the play yet provided a strong ending which effectively tied up the feminist message and brought the performance into a much more lasting, modern context.

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