Vinegar Tom @ Sutco (more of a rant than a review)

(Reviewer’s note: Apologies for the rant nature of the review. It’s been a bad month.)

The Premise: An old town in nowhere and nowhen is rocked to the core when accusations of witchcraft are made. It looks like Salem, but it could be right now.

The Review: An allegory to feminism? Sure thing. Caryl Churchill wrote this play in 1976, the hey day of feminism, injecting some feminist views on the period of the witch trials in Salem, one of the most grim, grotesque periods of humanity, when women suffered horribly and many a wicked man did unspeakable acts.

And after watching Sutco‘s chilling portrayal of Vinegar Tom, I wonder: is it necessary to insert that reference? It seems almost overkill as the parallel is pretty obvious. In fact, I’d venture to say things haven’t really changed.

Sure, people are not getting stir fried at the stake or dunked into the river Don like in the good (?) old days of witchhunts, but how different is that to having a girl getting ostracised from a clique just because she has a bit of a midriff or muffin tops? And how different is to have a Grand Inquisitor damning any woman he sees from a yoghurt advert that assumes ONLY women eat yoghurt and ONLY to fit inside a two-sizes too small pair of denim?

Anyways, back to Sutco’s play.

The women on the small town carry on menial tasks. One has the misfortune of being married to a slacker (who’s unfaithful). Another one seeks “treatment” as she is not married. One is accused of being a witch, just because she has a skill (it looks like herbal therapy, but it could be more about being a straight talking person telling things like they are). One more wants to get rid of a baby. A last one has committed an ultimate sin, having sex out of wedlock (represented by having had intercourse with the devil).

All these women will suffer. Some of them will even choose to continue their horrible condition, even if it means accusing another one of witchcraft. This is what their society has driven them to. They have been cornered and the choice was to sell out, going for a selfpreservation instinct.

There are two key scene in this portrayal of Vinegar Tom. The first one concerns Betty (the girl thought of as ‘sick’ as it has no boyfriend), getting examined by a Doctor. A brutal trip to what constitutes the sometimes silent judgement of an archaic value, a harsh measurement still used to this day and age (even so in my home country – more the shame to me).

The second key scene is the consequences of the witch (or witches – sorry, no spoilers) execution (s). The judgement has been passed and the society that never spoke against the act now condemns the dead, as if by that they could convince themselves that they erradicated an evil force. The “evil women” rhyme is repeated, like a mantra, over the thoughts of some of the surviving characters, a cold juxtaposition that although the tragedy has ended, the cycle will never cease (and it hasn’t ceased yet).

Heck, I’m hijacking this piece and using it as a soapbox moment : no matter what happens, what’s been said and all, women are still treated as inferiors. All the feminist movements really haven’t accomplished that much. Back then it was accusing women of witches, now is making them feel shit if their dress size is higher than zero, if they don’t use the latest age-retarding cream (sigh) or even if they don’t have a “significant other”.

Shit almighty, has this play made me a misandrist? And how come my version of Word totally accepts the word “misogyny”, but does not accept “misandrist”?

Why bother defending men when it all points out to women still getting the short end of the stick?

Look, it’s impossible for me to tell exactly what women suffered/are suffering. Because I’m a man, not a woman. I might not be empathetic enough to get the whole picture (and even if I could, would I understand the whole picture?) but I have my eyes open wide enough to see that things are not right. This is why this play affected me so much, because what I saw a simile of what I perceive is the treatment of women in Mexico (my home country) and even in a first world country like the United Kingdom.

Again, kudos for Sutco, they did a good production, but if there’s anything I can take from this play is a feeling of anger and despair. I don’t see a copy of “Cosmopolitan” in the waiting table at the Doctor’s office, I see a fucking pair of inquisitors (one dressed and painted like the child catcher), cackling at an innocent woman.

—Sam

About the author: Again, apologies to anyone if this ended up being more a rant about women than about the play itself. It’s what it made me feel afterwards.

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