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Review of ‘Vinegar Tom’ by Caryl Churchill

25th June 2013

Today, women are still fighting their battles, waiting for cracks to appear in the glass ceilings of the work place, eternally absorbing the intensive domestic aftermath of childbirth and its complex consequences.

Review written by Derek Greenwood and performed by students from the Performing Arts Department in The Empty Space Theatre on June 20th & 21st, 2013.

Using the focus of 17th century witchcraft trials to frame an examination of the exploitation of gender and the abuse of power in the late 20th century, Caryl Churchill skilfully weaves a disturbing tapestry of inequality, patterned to offend and distress and to illustrate the unchanging and woefully predictable failings of a patriarchal society.

Written in 1976 as a cutting edge response to the 1970 Women’s Rights Act, the play effectively and, without ambiguity, scythes through myriad issues at the centre of gender conflict. As the play sets the scene, with the familiar cypher of a breathless copulation, followed by widely differing levels of ‘satisfaction’, this production, mercilessly assaults us with piercing vignettes of petulant sadness with large, unpleasant slices of violence.

Through a continuing maelstrom of mis-understanding, laced with relentlessly dangerous body language, we juggernaut our way through an unremitting connection between bleeding and witchcraft, a life of pain and blows, and with the insistence that women must deal with ‘God’s afflictions’.

If the women ‘did uncleanliness’ what did the men do? Against the familiar hypocritical morass of ‘good witch’/ ‘bad witch’ we were left with an image of ugliness, a simple yet painful world, dripping with the insoluble problems of gender in a remarkably barren emotional desert.

Living up to its deserved reputation for discovering challenging, relevant material for students to get their teeth into, this production was simply staged, a primitive tale attacked with raucous vigour by an admirably committed and dedicated ensemble – the battle continues.

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