Vinegar Tom

(New Farm Nash Theatre)


I must confess to having never previously seen a production by this company , but New Farm Nash’s published program for 2001 declares an intent to explore and experiment, and Vinegar Tom displays an intent to do so with enthusiastic commitment in the direction and the performances.

But for all the company’s verve and vitality, translating this fragmented, myopic view of female oppression into moving and/or meaningful drama does, I believe, pose a daunting if not impossible task.

Methuen’s “ Churchill Plays: One” (1985) informs that Vinegar Tom was first performed at the Humberside Theatre, Hull on 12 October 1976, and “The Feminist Companion to Literature in English” does not suggest it enjoyed commercial success as did her “Cloud Nine” (1979), and later plays.

No doubt Vinegar Tom’s central theme had relevance then. Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” was first published only five years earlier. But even in 1976 one has to surmise it was a piece whose patent bias and predictable outcomes rendered it dramatically barren despite its Brechtian pretensions. No witches (real or imagined), no witch-hunt hunt and while witches were never burned in England their dangling demise was as certain as their barbecued counterparts elsewhere, once the prejudice of their peers peaked and became predatory.

Megan Ball’s directorial debut for New Farm Nash is a memorable one. She moves the players fluidly and effectively in Michael McMahon’s simple but effective design. She elicits from her largely young cast a keen and dynamic sense of ensemble and extracts through them the dark if sparse humour of the 21 scenes of the piece.

Over all, the cast members define their characters clearly and with creative honesty, and their choral work is superb. But I would remind a few that the “size” of performance, physically and vocally, should to a significant degree be determined by the “size” of the acting space.

— Ron Finney
(Performance seen: Wed 13th June 2001)