With potent images of disturbing injustices, Vinegar Tom uses a seventeenth-century witch hunt to condemn the past and present oppression of women. Caryl Churchill shows how marginalised women, who did not fit into the narrow social categories of the patriarchy, were often labelled witches for little reason other than their non-conformity.
Alice sleeps with a man she does not know. Her mother Joan owns an old cat, and curses when her neighbours are cruel to her. Betty does not want to marry the man she is supposed to. Susan doesn’t want to be pregnant. These women are subjected to the humiliating investigations of doctors and witch hunters, and forced into self-loathing and panic and hatred. The play is striking beyond its historical setting in its depiction of women’s subjugation and repression.
Vinegar Tom was first presented in 1976 at the Humberside Theatre, Hull.