Review: In the Next Room, or the vibrator play (Court Theatre)

May 29, 2018

In a way, learning about the history of the vibrator is a worthy reason for this play to be produced. Set just as electricity was beginning to become commonplace in the homes of the elite, "In the Next Room" introduces us to Catherine Givings (Amy Straker). Her husband, known only as Dr Givings (Jonathan Martin), treats women suffering from "hysteria" (symptoms of which include nervousness, irritability, and being generally burdensome to their husbands), with the latest device designed to relieve patients of the pent-up "fluid in their wombs". Meanwhile, Catherine struggles to feed her baby, and questions exactly what the procedure involves and why it is proving so popular. Directed by Melanie Luckman and written by Sarah Ruhl, the Court Theatre's latest offering aims to be a classy comedy questioning the relationship between love, attraction and sex.

 

Being totally ignorant of the truth behind the premise, the opening scenes of "treatment" made me embarrassingly giggly. Martin performs as the stiff and upright Doctor with a remarkably straight face (perfectly portraying his character's discomfort with human interaction, preferring the routine isolation of his work), while his primary patient Sabrina (Hannah Wheeler) moans and flinches earnestly. The direction is made realistic enough that it can rest on the humour of the scenario so that the performances are not overplayed. Straker gives a stunning performance of a woman confining herself by societal expectations (in a refreshing role reversal, her husband reassures her that her body is not to blame and neither is she for her inability to feed her baby) and also resisting them in her eagerness to see her husband's machine and experience it, despite the potential for controversy. She gives her character a mature weariness and loneliness, and at the same time a youthful curiosity and wanderlust.

 

 

Though there are hints of what the stage should look like in the script; crowded and cluttered with material frills, the level of detail is astounding; the carved wooden chest of drawers, the conch shell under a glass dome, the statuettes, the Mackintosh style stained glass windows in the door, even the colour connotations of innocence, sensuousness and isolation are sublime. The costumes are no exception, given how many times characters undress on stage it is impressive to see the level of historical accuracy in how layered and stiff they are, as well as being just so elegant and fine. The final stage image, and bare in mind I am still trying to figure out how it was achieved, was a visual splendour, and brought the performance to a joyful climax.

 

Though the "treatment" is intended to be the central driving plot device, the play has some unexpected subplots. Some are valuable, others feels unnecessary, like they were added as an afterthought. After that first scene of nervous hilarity, the pacing meanders, until it is all wrapped up at the end far too quickly. The performance also suffers from being indecisive about what tone it wants to convey. The performances are too naturalistic (and the emotional moments too poignant) to be farcical, but the circumstances and interactions of the characters are too convenient, and the time given to each character is too evenly dispersed, to be taken as a drama.

 

 

Fergus Inder as male patient and overzealous artist Leo Irving is a perfect example of what the show suffers from; his performance is extremely vibrant, passionate and dignified, and his costume (tartan trousers, brown corduroy jacket, and loose, bright blue scarf) is detailed and characterful. He's a perfect fit on the stage, but by the end of the performance his contribution seems excessive and disposable, almost as though he would be a better fit in a different play. "In the Next Room, or the vibrator play" is entertaining and has all the right components, but never quite lives up to the buzz. Three stars.

 

Whispers from the crowd: "I thought it was a good commentary on how intimacy and love should be kept within the sacredness of marriage and not handed out freely"

Tags:

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Featured Posts

Review: The Mousetrap (Theatre Royal)

October 29, 2019

1/6
Please reload

Recent Posts
Please reload

Search By Tags
This site was designed with the
.com
website builder. Create your website today.
Start Now