True to its main theme, The Effect drags (or drugs?) your attention into the story, and makes you forget about the outside world. Can you get high on emotions and stories while watching a show? It’s definitely a possibility here.
This production of The Effect is a definition of an intelligent, emotionally invested drama sprinkled with plenty of laughs and deep reflection on the human mind and depression. As a whole, it achieves the difficult task to keep the complex general output on an emotionally balanced level (even though there are strong trigger themes involved, they don’t overpower the show).
The show (based on Lucy Prebble’s 2012 play) tells the story of Tristan (Omar Aga) and Connie (Jess Rogers) who sign up to participate in a clinical drug trial, but their burgeoning romance throws a wrench into the proceedings. As they begin to develop feelings for each other, they struggle to work out whether their feelings are real or a side effect. This uncertainty causes them to deviate from the trial’s intended course, which frustrates the clinicians overseeing the study. The play is a thought-provoking exploration of neurology and medical ethics, as well as the complexities of human emotion and attraction.
The show’s captivating script, penned by Prebble, flows naturally and effortlessly, offering a simple gate to the characters’ minds and emotions. It explores serious ethical dilemmas and mistakes made in clinical trials with clarity and insight, without sacrificing entertainment value.
It touches on serious ethical dilemmas and mistakes done in a clinical trial – but it does it in an easy-to-understand way, with a good deal of creatively presented expositions and explanations.
Lorna is a character created by Jessica Dawes, with an entertaining mix of sarcasm and seriousness (think Emma Thompson playing the doctor in “Bridget Jones’ Baby” – even her tone of voice sounds similar). She creates a painfully relatable character, who hides behind professionalism’s walls but inside has her own battle to fight. It’s probably why I felt so emotionally attached to her, and a bit heartbroken by how she ended the show. And it’s not easy to create such an effect playing such a humour-driven character, that’s for sure.
Aga shows off his acting skills full-on, especially in a highly emotional love fight scene in act 2. He delivers a standout performance, showcasing his impressive range as he smoothly transitions from a gentle lover to an angry, physically macho man.
Rogers is equally impressive, accessing profound and seemingly unanticipated emotions to deliver a superb performance as the drugs triallist struggling to come to terms with her feelings of love while grappling with the fear that it may be a mere chemical-induced illusion.
The show mixes tons of humour (would you expect comedy-level dialogues in a play about clinical trials? I definitely did not, yet here we go!) with informative pieces of knowledge about how the brain works and what are the rules of this specific type of medical experiments.
This is achieved without stiffness, by incorporating surprising moments that transform the audience into actual delegates at a pharma conference, as Toby (Daniel Saunders) gives a TedX-style speech about the power of the brain.
The stage choreography in “The Effect” was nothing short of flawless. It was remarkable how every little detail, from the subtle act of nervously biting nails during the early stages of the trial, to my personal highlight – the first night of intimacy between the protagonists, was executed with perfection. The 8-hour night scene was artfully divided into brief 10-second segments, punctuated by moments of darkness. The actors adeptly captured the light and carefree tone of the couple’s initial night together, flawlessly transitioning between each scene with impeccable positioning and expression changes. The entire performance was both relatable and enjoyable, never once eliciting a cringe-worthy moment (something easy to achieve during bed-based scenes).
I just have to add a little comment here and praise the team behind the show for making sure that there was an intimacy and well-being coordinator involved in the rehearsals (Kim Barker) – in a show involving so much physical interaction, and actors who haven’t been through a full, professional acting training, this can make or break the experience for the cast sometimes. My full respect to the creative team and the director (Jonathon Harding-Cooper) for introducing this important expert involvement in the show.
There’s also little immersive touch, from the very beginning as the audience gets pharmacy conference delegate badges as they enter, elevating the audience’s experience to the next level. And the moment I stepped through the dark entrance to the auditorium, I have to say, I was positively overwhelmed with the size and quality of the stage set (beautiful work by Andrew Laidlaw).
A huge white box with just 2 chairs and a bed, radiated this cold, lab feeling from the get-go. But it also revealed some surprises later on, as the stage smoothly split into two rooms, and created an additional corridor for the doctors speaking at the “Pharma Conference” to enter the stage.
Little improvements that I could point out could be fixed were just these tiny visual fixes – and include ironing Lorna’s lab coat (it was taken right out of a wardrobe or bag and the creases were just a little annoying), or adding a yellow liquid to Connie’s urine sample (Tristans one was yellow, not sure why hers was not). Also, the fog at the beginning of act 2 was unnecessary and distracted me from fully focusing on the actors – in a white setting, and with actors wearing white costumes, it just made it more difficult to view the action on stage.
The unique aspect of The Effect is that it not only explores complex concepts but also evokes powerful emotions. The play portrays both the exhilarating experience of falling in love and the harrowing depths of depression. Through its poignant portrayal of these contrasting emotions, The Effect creates a deeply moving experience for its audience.
It’s a conversation starter so if you have that awkward first Tinder date in the pipeline and are still looking for ideas, this show could be a good choice. It will get you chatting for a long while both in the interval (those last seconds of the first act – beautiful!), and then also right after the beautifully open ending of the show.
By LUCY PREBBLE
21-25 MARCH 2023
Bridewell Theatre, London
CONNIE | Jess Rogers
TRISTAN | Omar Aga
LORNA | Jessica Dawes
TOBY | Daniel Saunders
NURSE | Sophie Goodman
DIRECTOR | Jonathon Harding-Cooper
PRODUCER | Ben Hussey
LIGHTING DESIGN | Rhona Sampson
SET REALISATION | Andrew Laidlaw
STAGE MANAGER | Laura Martin
ASSISTANT PRODUCER | Sukhi Bains
PROPS | Aimee Parnell
WELL-BEING COORDINATOR | Kim Barker
MARKETING and COSTUMES | Natalie Harding-Cooper
PHOTOGRAPHY | Stephen Russell
COMMITTEE LIAISON | Tess Robinson
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