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16 August – 20 September
William McInnes – Dr Toby
Zahra Newman – Connie
Sigrid Thornton – Dr James
Nathaniel Dean – Tristan
Lucy Prebble’s award-winning new play has wowed UK critics, raising fascinating questions about the mysteries of the mind and the true nature of love. Connie is a young psychology student. Tristan, a dreamer from the wrong side of the tracks. When the pair meet as test volunteers in a major anti-depressant drug trial, an unlikely romance starts to blossom. But what if the chemistry between them is just a side effect of the drug they’re on? It’s up to psychiatrist Dr James (Sigrid Thornton) and her senior colleague Toby (William McInnes) to keep the trial from slipping dangerously off-track.
At it’s core, The Effect is a story about relationships, but I found the unraveling of the characters under the dramatic effect of the drug more interesting than the love story: Connie – a self-assured but naive psychology student – succumbs to anxiety which is more likely caused by her tendency to over-analyse her experiences and emotions than the drug itself, while Tristan – a happy-go-lucky scamp from “a shithole in Frankstone”, who arguably has the healthiest outlook on life out of the four characters – begins to ricochet out of control.
The most dramatic arc, however, belongs to Sigrid Thornton’s character, Dr James. In the first act she starts of in control, analytical, and removed, but never loosing her humanity and humour. She is quickly revealed to be a brilliant scientist, but almost overloads the audience with technical information in the process. Act 2, however, is a stark contrast. Once Dr James’ own struggle with depression is revealed, she quickly descends from her position of control and lands on equal footing with her test subject. Her ultimate breakdown precipitous and frightening.
By now you can probably tell that Dr James is my favorite character in the play. I fond her mistrust of anti-depressants and her acceptance of depression as a part of her nature incredibly human and compelling. For me, her eventual surrender was the most cathartic and uplifting moment of the play.
On the other hand, I found Dr Toby strangely devoid of emotion, which was, perhaps, the intention. McInnes’ character seems a stranger in the hight-pitched world of the play. An outsider, an analytical observer, with no real insight into the emotional state of his three subjects.
The sets, designed by Andrew Bailey, were spectacular. He conjured up a claustrophobic maze of the clinic and a cavernous emptiness of an abandoned mental institution. On the other hand, I found the sound design (The Sweats) a little alienating.
Given the heavy subject it’s dealing with, I did not expect the play to be as high-pased and humorous. This, combined with the great chemistry between the actors and wonderful, honest performances made for an enjoyable and though-provoking viewing.