Heading back in time some 350 years, Four Thieves’ 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 alchemists’ 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, it’s 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 Thieves’ 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 Thieves’ 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.