A story of two complex minds, ‘The Effect’, written by Lucy Prebble, is the story of two individuals, Tristan (played by Paapa Essiedu) and Connie (played by Taylor Russell) who are partaking in an anti-depressant drug trial. The play focuses on the power of the brain and emotions as the couple form an unbreakable connection through the trial. The question is whether these intense emotions and passion are a result of the drug agent or true overwhelming attraction?
The drug trial is monitored by Dr Lorna James (Michele Austin) and Dr Toby Sealey (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), who also debate whether the surge of emotions and dopamine between the couple are a result of the drug or their infatuation. They each sit on opposite sides of the stage through the whole performance, as a reminder that Connie and Tristan’s experimental relationship is being constantly monitored. It also emphasises the idea that Lorna and Toby hold opposing views towards the drug agent.
Throughout the play, we are faced with the contrasting personalities of Lorna and Toby and Connie and Tristan. Tristan wears his heart on his sleeve, he confronts his attraction to Connie and is spontaneous in character. Whereas Connie is more reserved and logical, tending to overanalyse her emotions. She is afraid to admit her love and attraction to Tristan, until her mind is overpowered by the intensity of the emotions she feels. She is quick to assume that her feelings are a side-effect of the drug, but Tristan is certain that it is real. Similarly, the doctors Lorna and Toby share conflicting views. We learn that Lorna struggles with depression herself yet refuses to take medication, whereas Toby is a firm believer in medicating the mind. Prebble has brilliantly explored the complexity of the brain; the play revolves around heightened senses – of touch, breath and the mind.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd, the stage is minimally set, and the pair are dressed in plain grey tracksuits. The only prop on the stage is a bucket containing a human mind – the focus of the play. Light design is brilliantly used to focus on specific characters and change scenes. The minimalism allows the audience to focus on the cast and almost creates a trance, as we are observers of the trial.
‘The Effect’ is an impeccable performance by an incredible cast. It evokes a sense of questioning for the audience – are our feelings determined by our hearts or are they simply a matter of chemicals in the brain?
Until 7 October 2023, buy tickets here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/the-effect/
Image: Marc Brenner
Reviewed by Ridha Sheikh
Ridha is a volunteer writer for Abundant Art. She is a recent History and Politics graduate from Queen Mary – University of London. Ridha is excited to explore and share her strong passion for London’s art scene.
Read Ridha’s latest review here Review: Brown Girls Do It Too: Mama Told Me Not To Come (abundantart.net)