Grace Glevery

Sarah Ruhl’s 2009 comedy, In The Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) is both hilarious and heartfelt. Centred on the lives of Dr. Givings (Oliver Jones) and his wife (Mabel Hoskins), Ruhl dramatizes the advent of electricity in 1880s New York. With this new god-like power at his fingertips, Dr. Givings is interested in putting electricity to medical use, specifically in the treatment of hysteria. At his disposal is a wondrous new tool: the vibrator. In the next room, meanwhile, Mrs. Givings is in crisis. Unable to nurse her baby and sexually frustrated by her marriage, she develops an overwhelming curiosity to learn the cause of the moans that reverberate through the walls.

Perhaps the most striking facet of the show was Valentin Foley’s costume design

Directed by Alex Ridley, this production showcases the elegance of Ruhl’s writing, and manages the odd Act 2 narrative contrivance as well as can be expected. Zak Karimjee’s naturalistic set (divided between the parlour and the doctor’s office) represents a more ambitious building job than we often see at the ADC – and, while it is perhaps not especially beautiful, it has undoubtedly been well-executed and functions perfectly as a slightly claustrophobic space for the characters to inhabit.

Jones as Dr. Givings has a suitable air of briskness and demonstrates strong comic timing, while Hoskins makes for an excellent Catherine Givings, and on opening night, warmed into the role as the show progressed. They are soon joined by Meg Coslett as Sabrina Daldry, a patient, whose stagecraft and comic instincts were on full display, and her husband, a drawling, Tom Buchanan-esque William Batty. Sabrina is the first patient to undergo the new treatment, and it’s a credit to Ridley’s direction that these scenes are balanced between humorous and shocking, without ever tipping over into voyeuristic. The play as a whole is imbued with this kind of mood; these moments feel intimate, but like they deserve to be shared.

Simply put, this is a show that works

Alongside these four are Elizabeth (Alayo Akinkugbe), Annie (Ella Gold), and Leo Irving (Ben Galvin). Elizabeth is hired as a wet-nurse for the Givings’ baby, and as an African American is alternately discriminated against, treated as an aesthetic object, and forced to act as something of a confidante to her employer. It struck me as the most difficult role in the show in terms of tone, and Akinkugbe’s performance had a convincing gravity, though perhaps might have benefited from a little more energy. Gold as Annie appeared appropriately energised but had the opposite problem of occasionally failing to articulate a line clearly enough. Galvin’s Irving, however, was a highlight, both touchingly human and at times slightly absurd as the temperamental artist diagnosed with a rare case of male hysteria.

Perhaps the most striking facet of the show, however, was Valentin Foley’s costume design. Historical costume design on a budget poses a variety of challenges, and the two ladies’ dresses in particular, complete with period appropriate undergarments, are a testament to how well student period dramas can be costumed under the right circumstances.


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Hoskin’s and Coslett’s dresses are noteworthy both for their attractiveness and for the way in which they confine the women; the men are able to rush about with ease, while the women always seem to be at war with their clothing as the skirts rustle as they move, or even make it impossible to move quickly. Ella Pound’s lighting, while mostly naturalistic, came into its own in the stunningly lit final scene, in which Dr. and Mrs. Givings rediscover each other under a cloud of blue haze.

Without wanting to speak simplistically about what is in fact a rather complicated examination of intimacy and sexual identity, simply put, this is a show that works. Thoughtful direction is combined with careful design and compelling performances. It deserves larger audiences over its next few nights. I would thoroughly recommend this hysterically funny break (if you’ll forgive the pun) from exam revision.

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