by Sarah Ruhl.

Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 9 June 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01225 448844.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 May.

Early science in a rousing drama.
In Ustinov Director Laurence Boswell’s three-decker modern US drama season there’s been sex (Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter), politics (In a Garden by Howard Korder), and now, with Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, sexual politics. Following director Richard Beecham’s fine work with the first two, Boswell himself shows a firm hand directing Next Room’s cunning contrivances.

The Ustinov’s confines mean ‘next room’ becomes ‘room above’, but that neatly joins the play with all those attic secrets writers have long exploited. And it adds the sense of male dominance to the irony of a 19th-century American husband’s scientific exploitation of female sexuality to remove nervous and depressive disorders.

For women, and the occasional man, Dr Givings has developed what would now be sex-aids to stimulate orgasms. His assistant Annie is on hand to provide more traditional manual substitutes, but otherwise there’s a delight in the danger that new-fangled electricity adds to the experience in that upper-room ‘laboratory’.

A farcical aspect runs alongside the serious, for audiences in a sexually franker age. And the pace hots-up as passions and energies are released, sometimes outside what the times acknowledged. Artist Leo (the only male patient, and the one allowed a first name) pursues the Black wet-nurse acquired by the Givings; intense desire arises between two women of a different class.

The levels of Simon Kenny’s set creates a compactness emphasising 19th-century domesticity through the heavy furnishings downstairs, contrasted by the medical sparseness above. Boswell and his strong cast catch the play’s controlled tongue-in-cheek mood, ensuring a sense of busy-ness; at every opening of the carefully tied-back front curtains (two maids being employed entirely for this operation) there is brisk movement, while the doorbell’s harsh loudness shocks the quiet atmosphere.

Sound bears on the action from above, with Givings’ wife shut-out from the whirring vibrators and increasingly ecstatic groans of patients. Ecstasy is only for those diagnosed as sick; Catherine is not a suitable case for treatment, until an end which moves from the crowded house to the garden on a snowy night. Here (skirting sentimentality) the scientist becomes literally and emotionally naked.

Catherine Givings: Katie Lightfoot.
Dr Givings: Paul Hickey.
Annie: Lucy Robinson.
Mr Daldry: Tom Hodgkins.
Sabrina Daldry: Flora Montgomery.
Elizabeth: Rakie Ayola.
Leo Irving: Edward Bennett.
Maids: Anna Bradshaw, Amy Burridge, Victoria Cansfield, Lucy Priscott.

Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Emma Chapman.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Dialect coach: Elspeth Morrison.
Stunt arranger: Jonathan Howell.
Assistant director: Jessica Edwards.
Assistant lighting: Aaron J Dootson.

2012-05-31 13:19:50

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