Photos Reviews

Vinegar Tom

November 1991

by Caryl Churchill, directed by Nick Jones


Alice - Elizabeth Walker

Susan - Gabriella Graham

Joan - Rosemary Whitehurst

Margery - Margaret Butt

Jack - Gordon Halliday

Betty - Caroline Jones

Ellen - Vicki Jones

Goody - Louise Goodbody

Packer - John Marshall

Man - Chris Broughton

Doctor - Keith Palmer

Bellringer - Cass Thorne

Kramer - Keith Palmer

Sprenger - Cass Thorne

Production Team:

Music: -

Music - Geoffrey Brace

Musician - Ellen Thomson


Director - Nick Jones

Stage Manager - Mike Trout

Stage Crew - Brian Bowker, Chris Scanes & Stewart Price

Lighting - Barry Matthews & Keith Palmer

Costume - Isla Morgan

Properties - Alison Sumner

Front of House - Cally Pettit

Publicity - Alison Sumner

Programme - Philip Jones & Stewart Price


From Estuary News:

...Technically the production was excellent....

Any members of the audience who expected a Topsham version of Cats was disappointed. Vinegar Tom, depicted on the programme, was a neighbour's cat who slunk by while the author was thinking of a title. It was to be a play about witchcraft with no witches. A cat title with no cat?

A study of the helpful introduction by the director, Nick Jones, is essential to an understanding of the play. The theme, as explained by Churchill, is the perverted attitude by Christianity to women. Sex, to the early Christians, was equated with sin; and woman, as the temptress was held responsible for all forms of sin and misfortune. This attitude led to the cult of witchcraft and the consequent death by torture of over 3 million women in Germany alone in the 14th to 17th centuries. It spread, on a much smaller scale, to England in the 17th century. The play deals with this period.

The Director had to interpret the Author's motives. Clearly her aim was not realism; there are no witches and no horrors. The characters and plot are symbols of witchcraft. The actors had this idea of symbolism clearly and consistently in mind and could even afford some humour.

The scene is a plot of earth in a village. The only props are tree stumps and a milk churn. Leaves are scattered on the floor. Alice, an attractive peasant girl, is entangled with a 17th century punk. His main concern is that during their co-operative sex act he inflicted pain on her. This is a key to the whole perverted cult of male dominance.

Other characters are Jack, a farmer, and his wife, Margery. They are cursed by Alice's mother, who takes a pride in her curses, which she piles on Margery and Jack. Margery complains at the churn that her butter 'is not coming'. Jack has the same complaint. Various charming village girls have problems that in the spirit of that age could be associated with witchcraft. Two sophisticated cross-talk comedians act the part of a chorus in a Greek play, giving a cynical commentary on human nature in general.

Enter a famous 'witch-taker' and his female assistant. Instead of creatures of terror, Nick Jones portrays him as the equivalent of a High-Church vicar denouncing the ordination of women, and her as a kind of up-to-date headmistress outlining with true Christian relish the much superior tortures meted out on the continent as though they were the facilities she would like in her school. The witches are diagnosed and led away to be hanged, leaving a reduced population to perpetuate a theme which is as old as time. It is manifest now in battered wives, the fear of women to go out at night, the prevalence of rape, tolerance of the macho element and bitter prejudice in unlikely places.

Technically the production was excellent. The action was punctuated by intervals of darkness during which characters re-group. The diction was clear and confident. An essential part of the eerie atmosphere is given by the music. Geoffrey Brace composed a background of sound to express the mood of the times, and Ellen Thompson played notes on the recorder which were as mournful as the cry of the condor over the Andes. Music and words were contrapuntal.

A final comment! It was encouraging to see some very promising young members of the company who played their parts with self-control, sensitivity and confidence. The future looks good.

- Reviewed by: James Smeal


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