Review: The Effect at The Studio Theatre
Lucy Prebble’s most recent work, The Effect follows a pair of young volunteers, Tristan and Connie, as they trial a new experimental antidepressant. As the dosage increases, so does their shared attraction.
The set is appropriately clinical; all sterile white tiles and brushed metal. The audience are given uncomfortable folding chairs appropriate to the setting – establishing us as active observers of the experiment. We feel like we should be peering into the experiment from behind a two-way mirror, clipboards in hand.
Of particular note are Tim Reid’s video projections, which paint the entire set, reinforcing the impression of an environment in which everything is precisely monitored and regulated. Both sides of the stage are mirror images at the outset, but the symmetry is broken with increasing regularity as the experiment progresses and the attraction between Connie and Tristan rises.
Ophelia Lovibond and Henry Pettigrew are compelling as the lovestruck volunteers, but the real standout performance comes from Priyanka Burford as the psychiatrist conducting the experiment, and her battle with depression. Late in the play, she holds up a human brain (surely not real, but nonetheless convincing), musing on its frailties and shortcomings in an uncanny reimagining of Hamlet’s famous Yorick skull scene. The treatment of depression is sensitive and visceral, hitting a little too close to home for some visibly affected audience members.
The experiment depicted makes a mockery of scientific ethics and rigour, and Connie must surely be in the very earliest days of her psychology degree to not be aware of the many details of scientific studies that must be explained to her for the audience’s sake, but let’s face it, the drama is better this way, and no one bought a ticket expecting a masterclass in clinical trial methodology.
After an impressive climax, the tightly-wound plot comes apart a little in the final scenes, giving way to a wishy-washy mix of ideas. Perhaps we are meant to conclude that love conquers all? The Effect is bursting with ideas, relevance and razor-sharp style, and is carried by a well-chosen cast. Were it not for the tepid conclusion, it would be flawless.
Words: Joshua Hackett