In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play is Black Swan State Theatre Company’s latest offering, an enjoyable, hysterical and relatable period piece that whisks us back in time to events that may seem too strange to be true, but in fact were quite commonplace.
With technology creeping more and more into our daily lives, we can easily empathise with these characters in the 1800s as they tackle the advent of electricity and the loss of human connection.
Hilarity was a given, with the subject matter of treating women suffering from hysteria with treatment using Dr Giving’s newfangled Vibrator. Underpinning this humour, however, were some very human conflicts and emotions.
I found Rebecca Davis’ portrayal of Catherine Givings particularly moving, as a new mother feeling distanced from not only friends but also her own child. With many periods on stage just as a presence she managed to convey her feelings of being adrift and alone very poignantly. Her relationship with Dr Givings (Stuart Halusz), which was stilted at first and seemed to become more and more distant, instead came to a beautiful, heartwarming climax (pardon the pun!).
There were so many different undertones going on in this play. The Victorian period dilemmas of coping with industrial change, racial and gender inequality and the universal conflict between lovers and friends were all there. 200 years later and it appears that the things that cause us anguish and joy haven’t changed a bit.
I really loved the script by Sarah Ruhl. Certainly some challenging scenes for all the performers and some scenes that those with a more conservative mindset may find challenging. The title really should give it away, but if you are prudish in any way, this may not be the play for you.
Set design by Alicia Clements was particularly clever, with a two storey construction that created a lot of interest as performers told the parallel and interweaving stories. I took delight in the costuming, though perhaps the actors found them more challenging than delightful given the extra complexity of dressing and undressing in Victorian-era style clothing.
The supporting cast of Kingsley Judd, Tariro Mavondo, Jo Morris, Tom Stokes and Alison Van Reeken added wonderful depth and some very relatable performances to the show.
The addition of a historical display of vibrators in the foyer was a lovely touch and brought a lot of realism to the subject matter. Another great production by Black Swan Theatre Company, In The Next Room, or The Vibrator Play is on at the State Theatre Centre of Western Australia until 4 November. Tickets are available here.