Vinegar Tom[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)

Warwick University Drama Society’s production of Vinegar Tom makes a decent stab at staging Caryl Churchill’s play, but weighs it down with self-indulgent songs that interrupt and irritate.

It’s well-acted, in the main, especially the actors playing stubborn Alice and wide-eyed Betty. Churchill’s plot about witchcraft and suspicion is powerful, posing questions about neighbours, about betrayal and about how poverty drives people to desperate acts. The clear feminist message is an interesting one to view through the prism of the seventeenth century. The parts of this production that concentrate on text and character are intense.

The music, though, absolutely doesn’t do it for me: between each scene (as stipulated by Churchill), songs are performed. These are supposed to be situated in the present, and we are offered a band of guitars, bass and drums playing incredibly samey rock tunes to accompany different cast members’ singing. It’s too loud, too brash and, frankly, too amateurish to be interesting, and my heart starts to sink every time they start to play. The band themselves are capable, but the dull tunes don’t give them space to show off their skills. Added to this, the singer(s) wear ripped, baggy, modern-dress T-shirts daubed with unsubtle slogans (“No one loves a slut”). It feels very much as though the director decided that the songs in the script needed augmenting, and they just don’t work for me.

Having said that, the very last song, featuring cast members in sparkly vests and hot pants, is brilliant. Genuinely clever and funny, it demonstrates the light touch of irony and wit that the other songs were sorely lacking. A knowing, clever ending to a moving play. Overall, leaving aside the music, Vinegar Tom is an intelligent and well-acted production of Churchill’s fascinating play.

Vinegar Tom is at C nova as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until 13 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.