In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play: Theatre review - 'it invites yelps of laughter'

St James Theatre, London

There's certainly no shortage of climaxes in Sarah Ruhl's provocative Broadway play, brought to London now from Bath in Laurence Boswell's beautifully acted production.

Set in the 1880s, it focuses on the new electronic vibrator and its role in exposing the depth of sexual ignorance amongst gentlefolk in that corseted era.  Upstairs in his consulting room on the split-level set, Jason Hughes' preposterously business-like Dr Givings is treating a depressed married woman (Flora Montgomery) for “hysteria” by using the appliance to induce a “paroxysm”. 

Female erotic pleasure is so alien to his thinking that he can't identify it even when it stares him in the face. Meanwhile downstairs in the plush parlour, his frustrated wife (a delectably direct and oddball Natalie Casey) is puzzling over those “noises off”.

The play invites yelps of laughter at the black absurdity of a patriarchal set-up that leaves the women having to take matters into their own hands (so to speak). It is also keenly alive to the bleak loneliness of feeling barely acquainted with one's body. The shifts between broad comedy and rather self-conscious lyricism can be a bit lunging but the excellent cast (Madeline Appiah and Edward Bennett are particularly fine) do the piece proud as it moves to its final poetic vision of snow-swept mutual awakening.

To 4 Jan; 0844 264 2140 

Comments