Pros: These plays explore feminism and global warming – topics that must be addressed in theatre, and are very close to my heart.
Cons: At 90 minutes each both plays are rather too long for a double bill, and could cope as stand alone pieces.
Caryl Churchill is probably my sister’s favourite living playwright. I haven’t seen enough of her work myself to claim the same preference, but her name attached to a play is enough for me to get excited. So it was with pleasure that I saw her 1976 piece Vinegar Tom, a sharp reflection of gender and power relationships played out through a 17th century witchcraft trial. It remains a brilliant expression of the ubiquity of inequality in both the late 20th Century when the play was written, and now in the early 21st Century in which it continues to be performed.
The play has a definite Brechtian feel to it as the realism of the natural storyline is destroyed by the interspersion of aggressive music and lyrics that are performed by a black-dressed ensemble directly out towards the audience; breaking the fourth wall. The performers, a cast of mostly women, were all pleasingly angry about the misogyny and inequality when in their black garb, and gave excellent emotional performances when in their traditional character and costume too.
Clearly very well rehearsed, the scene changes flowed effortlessly and the ensemble worked well together. The sets were made up of the actors who were not in the scene: they held trellising, ladders and wooden boards to make houses, doors and walls. And further still, the performers would also change into costume in view of the audience. These were interesting ideas to make obvious the artificial nature of the play and outline the issues (and anger about those issues) being raised, but aesthetically it cluttered the stage and took my attention away from the performance at times.
The second play was very different. The Ice Man is a tale of love and loss between a woman and a man made entirely out of ice. Based on the works of Haruki Murukami, a contemporary Japanese novelist, the core message I took away was a warning about the effects of global warming and fracking on our planet (and therefore on the man made out of ice). A rather worthy cause.
The piece used humour to break out of the classic realism of most proscenium arch plays and I suppose that, along with the fact it had a political message, is where the similarities between the two shows ended. The Ice Man was an amusing play with an excellent collection of character actors who performed their socks off for the audience, and transformed a rather strange script into a comical performance.
Both shows were longer than I was informed which made for a rather stretched evening; but while Vinegar Tom was fast-paced The Ice Man meandered. As aptly put by Sophie, one of the main characters, the play transforms from a love story into a political play suddenly about two-thirds of the way through. As much as I always appreciate a Romeo and Juliet/Beauty and the Beast romance story, I found myself frustrated that it wasn’t until the last third of the piece that the true message was presented. Ultimately I feel this play could be cut down to an hour by excluding a lot of what I believe to be superfluous dialogue and scenes, without negative effect.
I did therefore prefer Vinegar Tom to The Ice Man. I think perhaps that if someone feels strongly enough about something they shouldn’t make a comedic play about it as it rather detracts from the message. However, regardless of these musings I would be enthusiastic about seeing any one of the performers on stage again, and I believe Fourth Monkey Theatre Company has a great deal of potential.
Vinegar Tom Writer: Caryl Churchill
The Ice Man Writer: Toby Clarke
Producer: Fourth Monkey Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 8341 4421
Booking Link: http://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/whats-on/event/2014/the-iceman-vinegar-tom/
Booking Until: 5th June 2014