Writer: Lucy Prebble
Director: Jake Murray
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
‘Why are we still tied to the notion of the sane and insane? Why not call ourselves the insane and the ‘not insane at the moment’?’
With a growing recognition of the prevalence of depression and mental health problems throughout society, Lucy Prebble’s award-winning play The Effect has become even more relevant since premiering at the National Theatre in 2012.
Manchester based theatre company Play With Fire bring this thought-provoking and engrossing play to the main stage of the Coliseum in a high-quality production.
Tristan and Connie volunteer to take part in a drug trial into a new type of anti-depressant, although both purport to be happy with their own lives and planning for their future. Trial veteran Tristan is raising the funds to go travelling and soon asks bright Psychology student Connie to accompany him. As time passes – and dosages increase – they find themselves falling deeper in love with each other. But is their love ‘real’, or simply a product of their increased dopamine levels? And what is love anyway, if not a result of a chemical reaction in the brain?
With a sparse, clinical design by Louis Price and a cast of only four, The Effect may seem small in scale. Prebble, however, raises and dissects a number of large overall themes, touching upon the ethics of research trials, the manipulation of statistics to suit an agenda, what makes us who we are and even what it means to be human. Detailed direction from Jake Murray and Prebble’s quick-witted, accessible dialogue ensures that despite the heavy subject matter, the play itself is entertaining and constantly evolving, with moments of humour and pathos amongst the drama.
As Tristan and Connie, Play with Fire co-founder Daniel Bradford and Elaine McNicol give assured and compelling performances, capturing the intensity of the characters emotions and turmoil. Much of the scientific debate is between Karren Winchester’s sympathetic Lorna – who believes depression is caused by external factors and rejects the notion that it can be medicated – and Robin Kingsland’s self-assured Toby, for whom depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, an illness that can be prescribed treatment like any other. Winchester and Kingsland communicate some of the weighty neurological discussions well and as their characters shared history is gradually unveiled, they prove the perfect foil for one another.
The excellent cast balance the issue-led arguments with the emotional character-driven heart of the play, leading to a poignant conclusion.
The Effect provides no easy answers but raises some fascinating questions about relationships, free will and the attitudes towards mental health within the medical community and society in general. Well acted throughout, this is a strong production of an intelligent, enjoyable and emotionally satisfying play.
Runs until 27th September 2018 | Image: Sophie Giddens