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"FOUR THIEVES' VINEGAR"
On from 08 Mar 2017 till 26 Mar 2017
Barons Court Theatre
by Christine Foster
Genre(s): New Writing, Drama, Comedy

Tickets: £10 - £12 - Sunday Performances: Pay What You Can

About: "FOUR THIEVES' VINEGAR"

The 42nd Theatre Company

presents

"Four Thievesí Vinegar" by Christine Foster

1665, Newgate Prison, London

Matthias, an alchemist, has bankrupted himself trying to find a cure for the plague and has been thrown into prison for debt. There he is joined by Hannah, a garrulous widow, held for raising a riot, and young Jennet, who is sentenced to hang for theft. All three of them are busy plotting against each other in their efforts to escape when the pestilence arrives in the stone pits of Newgate.

Whilst the other inmates, believing they are doomed, indulge in debauchery and drunkenness, Matthias begs his reluctant cellmates to help him make his sure-fire remedy. Unfortunately, the missing ingredient is gold – something they have no hope of obtaining without resorting to the only currencies they do have: sex, wit and lies. Four Thievesí Vinegar explores the behaviour of ordinary people in times of disaster and examines which elements of the human spirit remain indestructible, be it 350 years ago, or today.

PERFORMANCES: 8th-26th March 2017, excluding Monday 13th and 20th (performances begin at 7.30pm, 6.30pm on Sundays)

TICKETS: £12 (£10 concessions). Sunday performances: Pay What You Can.

BOX OFFICE: 020 8932 4747

EMAIL BOOKINGS: Send details of performance and number of tickets required to londontheatre@gmail.com. Then pay for them, in cash, when you come to the performance.

FURTHER INFORMATION: www.the42ndtheatrecompany.com‎.‎

Reviews

Greg Stewart
Four Star Review from Theatre Weekly

Heading back in time some 350 years, Four Thievesí Vinegar, at The Barons Court Theatre, is a gripping one act drama set at the height of the Black Death. Written by Christine Fletcher and directed by Adam Bambrough, the play sees four strangers brought together in a cell in Newgate Prison, locked away from the outside world but semi protected from the contagion.

A jailer, an alchemist and a couple of con-women find themselves with an unusual dilemma; to leave the jail and face death, or stay in relative safety. Add to this the alchemistsí belief he can concoct a cure and a very interesting plot emerges.

The first thing to notice is the accuracy of the staging and costumes, by Sally Hardcastle, this is mirrored in the writing, itís all very historically accurate and rather enlightening. It is fascinating to hear how people tried to cure themselves, from rubbing live chickens on their sores, to smoking the pipe, in the belief tobacco was good for them.

What elevates Four Thievesí Vinegar to a compelling drama is the cast. Nick Howard-Brown is particularly enjoyable to watch as the alchemist, Matthias Richards. Kate Huntsman and Pip Henderson as Jennet Flyte and Hannah Jeakes, work extremely well together, the characters are chalk and cheese but as the play progresses we discover more of a similarity than we first thought. Finally, Bruce Kitchener is quite endearing as the friendly jailer, Simon Holt.

Four Thievesí Vinegar manages to explore some interesting themes and develops characters well in just one act, avoiding predictability at every turn and with an emphasis on accuracy as well as entertainment. Not just for history buffs, this is a charismatic play that anyone can enjoy.

****

Andrew Curtis (Pub Theatre)

A dark comedy about the Black Death? An unusual tagline perhaps, but there is plenty to enjoy in Christine Fosterís new play.

Incredibly, one thousand people a day died at the height of the epidemic, and it is against this extraordinary backdrop that the play is set. It is named after a plague cure and speculates how it came by that label. The action takes place in a single prison cell occupied by Matthias, later joined by Hannah and Jennet. The latterís pregnancy is the only thing keeping her from the gallows. They are watched over by the corrupt but benevolent guard Holt. It quickly becomes apparent that they may well be safer isolated inside prison than those in the city outside.

We hear about the broader social context, with certain Puritans seeing the plague as divine punishment for the decadence that followed the restoration of Charles II. The scale of the epidemic, with the King and Royal Court fleeing the country and the condemned not being hanged because there is no one left to hang them, gives the play a dystopian feel.

In these extraordinary circumstances, there are also opportunities. Nick Howard-Brownís marvellously feverish Matthias fanatically explores the secrets of alchemy to find a cure. Hannahís role as a nurse provides plenty of work. With the bribery of guards always part of prison life, Bruce Kitchenerís turnkey has new markets to exploit, although he still feels a sense of duty to keep the prison functioning as the number of guards dramatically diminishes.

Sally Hardcastleís set design utilises the space at The Baronís Court theatre effectively and is excellently lit by Will Alder, creating a terrific atmosphere. And Hardcastleís costume design means that the production has a strong period feel, you can literally smell the conditions.

Set solely within the confines of a dark prison cell, the play builds a sense of claustrophobia. Yet it is not a straight-forward prison scenario. The complexity of the situation is illustrated by prisoners initially being reluctant to leave when the doors are left unlocked and another returning after escaping.

The play opened on International Womenís Day and it does well in illustrating the agency of women in this time. Kate Huntsmanís Jennet is not as vulnerable as she first appears. But it is with Hannah, a brilliantly ferocious Pip Henderson, that misconceptions of the era are most challenged. The position of nurse is especially vital during a plague and Hannah is happy to exploit all the opportunities, legal and illegal, that emerge from this.

****

Ross McGregor (Blog Of Theatre)

At times with the Fringe Theatre industry, grand ideas take place in tiny cramped arenas, but here we have a perfect unison of play and venue in that the subterranean vault-like gloom of the Baronís Court Theatre is transformed into a 17th century prison cell and this genius venue choice complements the aesthetic of the tale perfectly. The most striking element of this production is its design. Sally Hardcastle and Will Alder deserve the highest of praise for their work on this production, as they have elevated it to something worthy of the West End. The lighting, props, costume and set decoration are simply flawless, creating a perfect, captivating world in which the actors can play in. From tiny details of amber window effects, to the dirt underneath the actorsí fingernails, itís all done with an attention to detail that is staggering.

Jim Kelly (RemoteGoat)
"...the ambition of Foster's play is still impressive. As an effort to evoke a world, indeed an underworld, whose essence, given the limited number of contemporary accounts can only really be guessed at, it is largely successful. Certainly the play captures the sense of surreal strangeness provoked by Foster's cited inspiration for her work: the piquant detail that the plague was so devastating all of London's prisoners were released as no jailers had been left alive in the city".

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""FOUR THIEVES' VINEGAR""

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