Society women all abuzz with mechanics of success
Sydney Morning Herald
Monday February 14, 2011
IN THE NEXT ROOM, ORTHE VIBRATOR PLAYSydney Opera House Drama Theatre,February 11Until March 27Reviewed by Jason BlakeABOUT the same time that electricity was sparking a revolution in the delivery of capital punishment in America's prisons, it was, according to this plush and playful comedy drama by Sarah Ruhl, zapping many a society lady to her happy place.Dr Givings (David Roberts) is a gynaecologist whose enthusiasm for new technology makes him the go-to guy in the treatment of "hysteria", the mixed bag of symptoms encompassing just about any behaviour an upstanding Victorian gentleman might find unbecoming in a wife.A new patient, Mrs Daldry (Helen Thomson), appears to be a textbook case: sensitive to light and sound, physically weak, sad as a wet weekend. Yet, after just one electro-mechanically-induced "paroxysm" from the doc and his vibrating machine, she blooms once more. After more, ahem, treatments, Mrs Daldry recovers her youthful flush, takes up the piano again, and all manner of hitherto unsuspected feelings - some directed towards Givings's assistant, Annie (Mandy McElhinney) - are unlocked.Much of this takes place within earshot of Givings's unhappy young wife, Catherine (Jacqueline McKenzie). Struggling with new motherhood, she is curious at first, then furious that she seems to be the only woman not benefiting directly from her husband's skill set.Ruhl's depiction of Givings's methods and detached bedside manner is a comedy goldmine but her serious subject is the chasm of understanding between women and men, which she illuminates very cleverly.Pamela Rabe directs this handsome production with tact and sensitivity to Ruhl's broad range of concerns. The opening scenes are played sedately, as if asking its digital-age audience to slow down a gear or two. Funny lines - and there are many - are subtly played and comic business seems to arise naturally from the various predicaments.The performances are excellent, led by a vividly restless McKenzie, Roberts's emotionally remote doctor, and Thomson's creamy Mrs Daldry. Josh McConville delivers the goods as a rare case of male hysteria ("he's an artist", sniffs Dr Givings) whose joie de vivre is enhanced by a treatment that will curl the toes of many men in the audience.Marshall Napier is gruffly appealing as Mr Daldry and Sara Zwangobani graces the emblematic, slightly clunky role of Elizabeth, a black wet nurse employed to fatten up Catherine's sickly baby. McElhinney's spinster Annie is a small role but she plays it flawlessly.Set and costumes (Tracy Grant Lord) are lavish in their attention to period detail. Givings's buzzing machines - heavy on ornate brass and iron - are worthy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.Ruhl's syrupy ending does the preceding 2 hours a disservice, but in every other respect this is theatre of exceptional quality and broad appeal.