Sarah Ruhl
Sarah Ruhl

The subtitle of In the Next Room"or the Vibrator Play" – is pretty provocative. Was this always part of the title or did the play simply become known for this because of its subject?
I tend to be fairly utilitarian about titles and for the longest time the play just went by The Vibrator Play. At a point I thought the title was misleading and reductive, since the play has to do with vibrators but is ultimately about other things - marriage, intimacy, the body/mind relationship, amongst others. So I changed the title to In the Next Room and added the subtitle, which I liked because of all the 19th century plays with ridiculous subtitles.

What was your inspiration for writing a play about the history of the vibrator?
I read a book called The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel Maines and was astonished to find that doctors used to treat hysteria with vibrators. I had no idea! I'd always wanted to write a play set in the 19th century, but about things you don't normally find in the 19th century novel.

Why do you think discussing vibrators makes people, men in particular, uncomfortable?
Does it? I can talk ad nauseum about vibrators. Maybe I surround myself with people who don't mind talking about things like vibrators. Or maybe I make terrible small talk. I suppose, to answer your question, the classic interpretation would be that some men feel uncomfortable talking about vibrators because they're worried about being displaced by an object. But I think sexually confident men know that they can wield a vibrator in addition to pleasuring women in the usual way.

In the Next Room marked your Broadway debut in 2009. Did that feel like a big achievement?
I suppose it did. At the time I was pregnant with twins so there were two big events going on at the same time. As soon as the play opened, I was told to go on bed rest, which felt very Victorian.

The play had its UK premiere in May 2012 at Theatre Royal Bath. How was it received there? How do you think it will go down in London?
I loved the Bath production, and I'm happy that it was able to move with such integrity to London. I don't know audiences intimately enough to know whether there's a huge difference between the Bath audience and the London audience, but I'm hopeful.

Natalie Casey in rehearsals
Natalie Casey in rehearsals

Prior to In the Next Room, you've had UK runs for The Clean House and Eurydice. Have you noticed any key differences between attitudes to theatre between the US and UK?
One thing I love about the theatre tradition in the UK is that the actors are trained so incredibly well to deal with language. They often don't have the same hang-ups the American actors have about method acting. And I think that theatre is more deeply part of the well water in England. I think there's been a trend in the UK towards gritty realism in the last decade or more, and I don't really believe in the concept of realism, so I think that my work has been slower to come to the UK.

Next up in the UK, your adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando opens at Manchester Royal in February 2014. What can you tell us about that? Are you a fan of Woolf?
Virginia Woolf to me is one of those gifts that the gods impart every century or so to remind us of why we're human. Every century or so they give us Mozart, or Shakespeare or Woolf. So I'm very devoted to her. And it's a very faithful adaptation. I love Orlando in particular because it's such a romp. When she wrote it, she wrote it quickly and with great joy.

What else are you working on?
I have a play coming to New York in two months called Stage Kiss. It's about the phenomenon of actors kissing on stage, and how rehearsing kisses affects their love lives.

In the Next Room or the vibrator play runs at the St James Theatre until 4 January 2014