The Effect (Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company)
The Greenhouse, Bille Brown Studio
June 7 – July 5
“The Effect” is the story of four characters, set in a research facility for a pharmaceutical company studying the effects of a new drug regime in pursuit of relief for depression. Two paid volunteers, Tristan (Mark Leonard Winter), an energetic, flirty idealist and Connie (Anna McGahan), an uptight psychology student, come to the venture with their own emotional baggage. And despite the trial’s strict rules, as their dosages increase, they start to fall in love. Or do they? Is their newfound devotion instinctive or a by-product of dopamine? Is love double blind? And does it even matter?
Is depression the result of external factors or a consequence of chemical imbalance? This is the question explored in some interesting, albeit verbose debates between doctors Toby (Eugene Gilfedder) and Doctor James (Angie Milliken) – difficult subjects to tackle on stage, but ones that are handled well. Indeed, with such intellectual themes at its core, “The Effect” is an intelligent work its examination of sanity, neurology and modern science.
But the clinical romance is also funny and moving, thanks in no small part to the skilled performances from all four of its actors. Mark Leonard Winter, in particular, has a strong and immediate stage presence; he is passionate and endearing as Tristan. The sleek minimalism of the simple staging not only suits the actor-driven piece, but QTC’s intimate Bille Brown studio space. Glossy black tiles and overhead fluorescence lighting create a stark, clinical, almost sci-fi setting. Guy Webster’s soundscape also serves to heighten the situation.
The play certainly has many elements to engage its audience and the first half, in particular, is entertaining in its buoyancy, flirtation and genuine humour. Act Two, however, sees things taking a serious turn and, in doing so, there is a struggle to maintain tension, perhaps due to the monologue-ish dialogue dominance that seems to halt its action and extend its running time.
I was aware of the acclaim of “The Effect” going into to see the show (it won the 2012 UK Critic’s Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play); my Whovian knowledge bank includes the fact that UK production featured Billy Piper in her National Theatre debut, in a role written specifically for her by her close friend, the play’s author Lucy Prebble. Coming to Brisbane as a co-production between The Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company, the show more than lives up to expectations from its overseas praise. This is a provocative and challenging play that offers insightful commentary about happiness in the contemporary world, but no decisive answers, which is exactly what theatre should do. For theatre to be relevant, it needs to create work that studies the process of who we are both as individuals and as a society. And in this regard, through its cerebral but heartfelt subject matter, “The Effect” excels.
Photo c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qldtheatreco/photos