Home » Reviews » Drama » In the Next Room or the vibrator play, St James Theatre – Review

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

Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Laurence Boswell
★★★★
Pros: Complex and worthy themes, played by an excellent cast on a first class stage set give this production a polished feel. The second act provides lots of laughs, balanced with some poignant moments.
Cons: The first act is drawn out at times and the humour doesn’t really connect with the audience until after the interval. The diction is formal and a bit stilted, leaving the characters feeling a little wooden.
Our Verdict: This is not the racy, sexually focused play that the title may imply. The exploration of different types of relationships, loneliness and the part that intimacy has to play makes this an interesting theatre experience.
Credit: Eric Richmond
The very first thing that leaps to mind as I write about The Vibrator Play is that it is not at all what I was expecting. Although I’m not particularly prudish, I was a little nervous about what I might experience during the performance as my preconceptions were heavily influenced by that one “V” word. In my mind, I envisioned “the next room” as being off set, perhaps sparing the audience from seeing the vibrator’s use. So as I sat in my seat my concerns increased as the set reveals the next room is actually open walled and on stage all the time. As the performance begins in a middle class Victorian doctor’s residence and the first patient arrives and undresses, there is palpable uneasiness in the audience and this is perhaps why the humour does not quite hit home in the first act. However, as the play progresses all anxiety is allayed, as the execution of the drama is discreet and firmly rooted in Victorian sensibilities.
It’s a really interesting story – set around the time of the invention of electricity – about a psychiatrist, Dr Givings, who is treating patients for hysteria by inducing a ‘paroxysm’ to release ‘pressure on the womb’. He lives with his wife, Catherine, and his new baby who is not thriving, and so in true Victorian fashion, they hire a wet nurse, Elizabeth. The play revolves around the relationships between all the characters that also include the nurse, Annie, the patients Sabrina Daldry and Leo Irving, (the hysterical male patient – a rarity apparently!) and Sabrina’s husband Mr Daldry. They all meet in various contexts and mean different things to one another and it is this intricately woven interaction that provides the revealing truth about how they feel about themselves, their sexuality, insecurities and needs. The vibrator is the catalyst that exposes the feelings within each of the characters, one way or another, including those who are not in treatment – it is definitely not the star of the show. 
The acting is, on the whole, very good, although the over pronounced American diction did sound stilted – whilst this is the Victorian era, the highly defined annunciation of every syllable and consonant leaves the characters a little disingenuous and wooden. That aside, the performances were notably good. Jason Hughes is appropriately emotionally detached as Dr Givings. Catherine’s bubbly, out-going character belies the pain she feels inside, and Natalie Casey’s performance captures this poignancy well. Sabrina Daldry’s sexuality is awakened by her treatment and is played by Flora Montgomery with a certain gentle strength. Madeline Appiah’s Elizabeth brings motherly love to the drama with quiet beauty, which contrasts wonderfully with the vivacious Catherine. Annie, the spinster nurse, is played by Sarah Woodward with resignation and certitude and Mr Daldry played by Owen Oakeshott keeps the drama rooted in Victorian attitudes. The stand out performance, which saves the play from being altogether too staid, is Edward Bennett as Leo Irving, the English artist patient. Bennett is wonderfully funny, brilliantly exuberant and his pacey performance really takes the second act to another level. His interpretation of this character is spot on and very enjoyable.
This was my first visit to the St James Theatre and I have to say I love it! It’s got a busy, buzzing bar and I love the steeply raked seating which curves around the stage, giving every audience member an uninterrupted view of the handsomely set stage. The bar prices are not over the top considering its posh location but with ticket prices at £30, £40 and £50 a seat, it’s not a cheap night out, setting it somewhere between the West End and the rest. For that reason I won’t be seeing everything there, but I’ll certainly be back!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

In the Next Room or the vibrator play runs at St James Theatre until 4th January 2014. 

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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.