A low buzzing sound can be heard at The Court Theatre as the cast and crew prepare for the arrival of the theatre’s latest production, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play.
Set in a time before the vacuum cleaner or the television – but not the vibrator - In the Next Room, or the vibrator play was written in 2009, but takes place in the 1880s: a period of corsets, industrialisation and the dawn of women’s liberation. The scene for the play is a household split into two; one room showing Dr Givings’ surgery and the other showing his wife Catherine’s domain, the living room, which doubles as a patients’ waiting room.
The door between the two is locked and as Catherine wonders exactly what her husband is doing in the other room, she begins to consider what it means to be a woman, a wife and a mother in Victorian times – and whether or not the life she has is actually the one she wants.
In the mysterious, other room, Dr Givings is using his new device, the Chattanooga vibrator, to treat patients of the now defunct medical condition hysteria. Hysteria was first recorded in the 17th Century, with symptoms including anxiety; sleeplessness; irritability; nervousness; erotic fantasy and sensations of heaviness in the abdomen – modern indicators of normal emotional and sexual behaviours.
The patients that he brings into their home open Catherine’s eyes to the outside world and introduce her to a community of women whom she forges a life-changing connection with. These changes and relationships empower her to communicate openly about her desires – both physical and emotional – bringing her relationships with herself, her child and her husband into a new world – a modern one.
Former Associate Director of The Court, Melanie Luckman, is returning to the theatre to direct the play and believes the show will appeal to audiences for a multitude of reasons.
“I think everyone will take away something very different from this play– whether it’s in terms of women’s liberation or whether it’s about relationships between husband and wife, boredom, the role of motherhood and family life, or what’s hidden behind closed doors– what’s allowed and what’s not – and what’s revealed.”
She’s quick to say that the play, nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010, is, “not a play about porn. It’s not about cheap thrills. Is it about sexual pleasure? Yup. And it’s also incredibly smart and funny. It has heart and integrity… As well as being about vibrators.”
Stepping back into the 19th Century – and into a series of complicated costumes – is a cast equipped to juggle both the humour of the script and its more serious moments. Amy Straker, known as one-half of The Swan Sisters and most recently seen at The Court in Jack and the Beanstalk and That Bloody Woman takes the lead as Catherine; Hannah Wheeler as Dr Givings’ first ‘hysterical’ patient, Mrs. Daldry, and returning to The Court as the good doctor, having last been seen in Winston’s Birthday, is Jonathan Martin.
Fresh out of Titus Andronicus Eilish Moran and Fergus Inder are playing nurse Annie and patient Leo respectively, with Bianca Seinafo taking on the role of the Givings’ wet-nurse, Elizabeth and Matt Hudson as Mrs. Daldry’s uninterested husband, Mr. Daldry.
The creative team, including set designer Julian Southgate and costume designers Pam Jones and Pauline Laws have their work cut out for them, setting the scene for a 19th Century world where both skirts and vibrators were much bigger than they are now.
With pervading questions about what it means to be a good mother lingering throughout the story, Luckman, as a wife and mother herself, felt a specific connection to the script and thinks modern audiences will too.
“The struggles the characters have with motherhood are still hugely relevant today, particularly the isolation and the expectation to provide everything for everyone. Being a mother myself, I see that the internet is full of women talking to each other saying ‘how do I do this; this is too hard; I don’t feel supported by society and I feel so isolated’. I think that isolation of women is something that is absolutely still relevant today, even though we’re so connected through technology.”
...And for those still feeling hesitant about seeing a play with the subtitle the vibrator play, well, as Luckman says, “theatre should take you a little beyond your comfort zone.”
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play opens at The Court on 12th May and runs through until 2nd June.