A show called ‘The Vibrator Play’ is guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. However, there is more to Sarah Ruhl's play than first meets the eye.
Set in New York during the late 19th century, In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play is about the invention of the vibrator. The play centres around Dr Givings (Jason Hughes) who invents a 'strange electrical device' to treat female hysteria. Of course the device is purely created for medical reasons, but some patients will find any excuse to return for further treatment. These scenes are very over-the-top and farcical, the cast play up to the audience for extra laughs which becomes shallow yet amusing.
Meanwhile Dr Givings’ wife, Catherine (Natalie Casey), dominates the scenes which take place downstairs in the lounge. She recently gave birth but is unable to breastfeed her child. A wetnurse (Madeline Appiah) is hired which Catherine struggles to deal with, putting extra strain on her marriage. Further problems arise when Catherine grows suspicious about what her husband is doing upstairs (in the next room) and how he treats his patients. He is resistant to discuss his work with his wife. This adds a heartfelt and sincere underlying storyline to the piece.
At times the juxtaposition is powerful, but sometimes it feels as if Laurence Boswell's production doesn’t know what it is trying to be. The story is actually quite interesting and would make a good documentary! Simon Kenny's design is superb. The set is grand and detailed, but also fairly simple.
Natalie Casey shines as Catherine and portrays the comical and heart wrenching scenes to perfection. Most importantly she builds up a strong, unbreakable bond with the audience through the comedy which means you care for her more during the sadder moments.
‘In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play’ is a shocking, funny and very sad play. It certainly makes a nice change. The St James Theatre
is a stunning and comfortable theatre. If you decide to see the show, you certainly won’t forget the experience in a hurry.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins
Reviewed on Friday 22nd November 2013
In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play runs at the St James Theatre until 4th January 2014.