Four Thieves Vinegar

Intriguing period drama with a bleakly comic flavour, shining a light on an astounding period of London history.


Image: Thomas Everchild

Four Thieves Vinegar
By Christine Foster
Director Margot Jobbins
FourTails Theatre Company
Rialto Theatre

We’re in a tiny, cramped claustrophobic prison cell in the sweltering summer of 1665, the Black Death raging outside and coming ever closer, in a deftly suggested setting of wood, straw and sturdy barrels with a lightly sketched-in soundscape.

It’s rightly cramped and privacy is non existent – the privy takes pride of place and the cast must edge and sidle around furniture and props. There’s a few anxious moments there, plus a great audience heart-in-mouth ‘is he really going to … ???’ build-up to look out for.

There’s an authentic feel to props and frocks, though all the clothing layers do suggest dank chill over stifling heat – maybe fewer layers, more filth, more sweat as the production develops? I’d like a little more greyish light at edges and a more defined sliver of sunlight cutting through, but the natural tones and expressive faces are well offset in this plain black box space.

We never get to leave this hole, but there’s a giant, horrifying world out there, its darkly infernal images only told of and conjured up by Foster’s swift writing.

Char Brockes’ Jennet Flyte is an intense little bird quivering with zeal, curled around her secrets and ablaze with hope, even in this hell.

Liam Murray Scott is alchemist Mattias Richards, driven and poised above all this, secure in his scientist superiority, brushing aside his current situation with an abstracted arrogance that ultimately cracks and breaks.

Director Margot Jobbins’ Gaoler Holt shows pathetic cheery pride in her dreadful little kingdom, clinging resolutely to her fantasy future to the last.

Sorcha Brookes as Nurse Hannah Jeakes blends grim humour and a tough ability to make the most of every opportunity with a rough tenderness and raw vulnerability that’s most moving.

Intriguing period drama with a bleakly comic flavour, shining a light on an astounding period of London history.

Four Thieves Vinegar can next be seen

24th and 25th May at Hillside Barn, the Green, Rottingdean

1st and 2nd June 1pm at the Rialto Theatre, Brighton


Philippa Hammond
Sussex Playwrights Reviews