Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: In The Next Room, or the vibrator play, St James Theatre

“Your mouth is dry, and you lick your lips, and your face makes an ugly expression…”

Even its very title seems designed to shock - In The Next Room, or the vibrator play – but truth is that Sarah Ruhl’s play, seen in Bath last year, does little to hit the spot or indeed do much to arouse much attention. A lengthy exploration of the arrival of portable electronic devices for the treatment of women’s…hysteria, Ruhl eschews the chance of delving into the ins and outs of medicine of the time, the elusiveness of genuine understanding of female biology, or the quivering anticipation of the explosive social change on the horizon, and plumps instead for a bog-standard sex farce based on marital relations.

And for all that it is filled with the moans and groans of female (and male) “paroxysms” – Flora Montgomery’s Mrs Daldry charged with the thankless tasks of producing the vast majority of them – it is a curiously sexless enterprise. The focus remains instead on the disappointments of the marital bed, as Jason Hughes’ Dr Givings – the inventor of the new-fangled device – finds more satisfaction in treating his increasingly eager patients than connecting with his own wife, Natalie Casey’s pinched Catherine, and Mrs Daldry is happier with her doctor than has ever been with her own husband.

Ruhl takes a long time to say very little and though Laurence Boswell’s production has inspired moments of sprightliness, they are too far between. That said, Ed Bennett is great casting as a liberated artist keen to experience what all the fuss is about, Sarah Woodward is criminally under-employed as a nursing assistant and Madeline Appiah finds the rare moments of genuine insight as the wet-nurse who has to try and keep the wheels on the Givings’ family harmony. But it’s not particularly clever, or sexy or shocking, one should look elsewhere for satisfaction. I like the idea of Tuesday matinees though.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th January

No comments: