Directed by Cathy Petӧcz
COUP: Canberra production
Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre to December 4
Reviewed by Len Power 29 November 2016
“Vinegar Tom” is the second production presented as part of Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres’ Ralph Indie program in 2016, a new initiative that supports artists to develop and present new performance works. New experimental arts collective COUP: Canberra presented Caryl Churchill’s 1976 play which explores gender and power issues in a Brechtian style against the background of the witch trials in 17th century England.
Storywise, the play struggles by comparison with Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and Jon Whiting’s “The Devils” that cover similar subjects. It might have seemed more immediate when it was written in the 1970s when womens’ rights issues were breaking new ground. It was interesting that a play that argues so strongly that its women were innocent victims has a woman who happily accuses other women of witchcraft.
Acting of the cast was uneven and lacked depth of character. While it was a good idea in theory to have local musicians composing and performing the songs to Caryl Churchill’s lyrics, it was impossible to understand the lyrics from all but one of the singers. The songs needed to be integrated into the action of the play. As presented, they slowed the play down and robbed the production of the tension it should have had.
Set design by Imogen Keen was minimal and uninteresting and the strange denim costumes worn by the women were distractingly awful. The lighting design by Gillian Schwab worked very well.
There is a seating change for the second act where the audience has to sit on benches. After a while, some audience members appeared to find it more comfortable to stand up and lean against a wall instead.
This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition on Wednesday 30 November. Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 "Artcetera" program from 9.00am on Saturdays and in other selected Artsound programs.