A cooler blend of culture

‘The Vibrator Play’ rattles audience expectations about that good old-fashioned sex aid

Fact: The vibrator was the fourth electric device to be invented, arriving shortly after the light bulb, the microphone, and the toaster. It’s nice to see that man (and woman) had their priorities, er, straight.

Fact: The vibrator was initially used solely as a medical instrument; to treat women diagnosed with hysteria, since the vibrations helped alleviate headache, lethargy and bloating of the stomach.

Demonstration of use of the vibrator in a medical setting, circa 1891

Demonstration of use of the vibrator in a medical setting, circa 1891. (Copyrighted image under Creative Commons Attribution Only License CC by 4.0)

 

Fact: According to the Lovehoney Sex Toy Census of 2018, the Rabbit Vibrator was the most popular sex toy sold in Australia last year, and, according to Lovehoney, 64% of Aussie adults prefer to masturbate with sex toys.

With all this fuss having been made about the vibrator, it’s a wonder we’ve had to wait decades for a play to be staged about the subject. Enter In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play, written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl (and, yep, she won that prize for this play), first staged in 2009 to plenty of ooohs and aaahs but mostly general acceptance from a fairly liberal audience. The play went on to be nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010 and has since been staged in various cities around the world. Now it’s Perth’s turn.

The Black Swan State Theatre Company does an impeccable job in presenting a delicate subject to a crossover audience with equal doses of education and entertainment. Various themes run through In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play with focus on the old-school (Victorian) ignorance of female sexual desire playing alongside issues of infidelity, relationship envy, and the stresses that come with motherhood.

In one of the play’s key roles is Black Swan favourite Rebecca Davis, who plays Mrs. Givings, the wife of a very busy doctor, too busy giving his patients electrified orgasms to pay heed to his partner’s needs, and the mother of an infant that refuses to suckle, let alone smile at her. In a sense, then, the matriarch’s two main roles in life are shattered, yet she keeps a lively spirit, to the point of making healthy acquaintance with her husband’s patients.

Davis’ performance is not only remarkable in that she sees to it that her character finds balance in the trauma and chaos of her life, but because she performs opposite her own real-life husband, actor Stuart Halusz who plays Dr. Givings – also a performance that is totally on-point (I especially love Givings’ robotic-like monotone speak).

There are no nudge-nudges or wink-winks, just excellent delivery of brilliant dialogue that defies what even your parents might have told you during all that talk about birds and bees.

This play is educational, enlightening, entertaining, heck, even motivational (ie: those who may not have enjoyed the pleasures and benefits of the humble vibrator might now dare to give it a whirl).

Given the cheeky nature of its subject, it could have turned into a Benny Hill-like disaster but instead Black Swan’s In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play sees top tier humour and seriousness dished out in equal doses. Indeed, who’d have thought back in the late 1800s that something so serious would evolve into something so fun and inspirational?

Sarah Rulh has done a great justice to the subject of sex with this play. The likes of Colette and Oscar Wilde would have been proud.  Antonino Tati

 

In The Next Room, Or The Vibrator Play’ is on at the Heath Ledger Theatre from now until November 4, 2018. Tickets are available through www.bsstc.com.au.

Stage photography by Philip Gostelow.

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