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SPECIAL REVIEW: In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play, Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington. September 2011

SPECIAL REVIEW: In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play, Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington. September 2011
Performed by Stagecraft Theatre, Wellington
Directed by Rob Ormsby
Season: until 17 September 2011
Reviewed by: Ewen Coleman

It is late Victorian England and the lights are going on all over country; Edison has just discovered electricity. But the age of enlightenment has yet to reach the citizens, especially with regard to the marriage bed and repression and male dominance is still rampant. As a result female “hysteria” is on the increase (it also occurs on occasions in men too!). But with the introduction of electricity a doctor thinks he has invented the perfect cure, the vibrator.

And thus arises the sub-title of Sarah Ruhl’s fascinating, funny and quirky play In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play that covers a myriad of themes including love, marriage, sexuality, wet nursing and much more.

Dr Givings (Geoff Simmons) sets up his contraption in his operating room while his wife Catherine (Emma Smith) languishes in the room next door. Aided by his clinically efficient nurse Annie (Venetia Verner), Dr Givings is far more interested in administering to his patients than administering to the needs of his wife.
One such patient is Sabrina Daldry, (Catherine Hardy) who has been brought for treatment by her husband Mr Daldry (Paul Kay) because now “there is very little sympathy between us”. The two women strike up a friendship and when the good doctor is out one night they break into his operating theatre and discover that the vibrator can do more than just cure “hysteria”.

Adding to Catherine’s woes is the fact that she has just given birth but is unable to breast feed the baby. She engages Sabrina’s black housekeeper Elizabeth (Amanda Lyons) as a wet nurse as she has just lost her new born baby. She is a practical down to earth women who doesn’t understand why Catherine and Sabrina can’t equate the sensations that arise from the vibrator to those they should feel when making love to their husbands.

Then young artesian Leo (Jake Gyllenskog), having lost his libido, turns up for treatment, confusing Catherine even more by declaring that physical love and emotional love are inseparable. Leo also hits on Elizabeth the wet nurse, much to her consternation. Eventually Catherine re-connects with herself and entices her husband to do the same so that together, in the final moments outside in the snow, they are as one, physically and emotionally.

While the play covers almost too much ground, and one could be somewhat cynical about aspects of the play; Mr Daldry suddenly having a randy turn and hitting on Catherine and the implausibility of Leo falling for Elizabeth, the writing has a formal yet lyrical quality about it full of imagery, there is sufficient humour that is sensual rather than sleazy and the main characters are reasonably well fleshed out to allow the actors to create real and believable people.

And in this production director Rob Ormsby and his strong cast have done much to get in behind the lines to bring the play alive and give it substance. They are aided considerably by the ambience of the Victorian set and costumes that create just the right flavour to showcase Ruhl’s play. Rarely has a set, so meticulous and authentically designed by Anna Lowe, been seen on a Wellington stage, either amateur or professional.

And the acting throughout the production is to be commended, Geoff Simmons Dr Givings haughty ambivalence to his wife is irritatingly spot on, Emma Smith’s Catherine, brash and somewhat uncouth, yet showing the underlying ache of unrequited love contrasts well with Catherine’s Hardy’s mousey Sabrina that slowly blossoms in a women with a sense of purpose. The supporting cast equally flesh out their characters to support and compliment the main characters to make this highly original play and production well worth seeing.

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