Following their collaboration on hit play Enron in 2009, writer Lucy Prebble and Olivier Award-winning director Rupert Goold have already proven their combined talents to have a startling result on stage. Reuniting the acclaimed duo, along with Enron star Tom Goodman-Hill, would The Effect have the same desired… effect?
A Miriam Buether-designed set certainly goes some way to achieving this status, with the National’s Cottesloe theatre transformed into a medical trials facility through an unsettling, clinical arrangement of lurid yellow seats, which we discover, later in the production, will be used for a lot more than just sitting.
As numbers are projected on stage and brain scans flash up on screens, Connie and Tristan, two individuals willing to temporarily donate their bodies to scientific research in exchange for a bit of extra cash, are given an ever-increasing dose of RLU37, an anti-depressant drug in its first phase of clinical trials. But beyond the pill-popping and neurological tests, a touching love story is brewing between the subjects.
Star of Prebble’s television drama Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, Billie Piper takes on the role of Connie, a psychology student who emerges from her anxious and reluctant shell to become a warm and likeable soul as the rebellious counterpart to Jonjo O’Neill’s witty and flirtatious Tristan, whose comical indecisiveness and agitation filters out throughout the production in dichotomised sentences that merge a sense of delight with dread, apologies with abuse and affirmations with denials.
Anastasia Hille as the presiding doctor combines her monotonous and no-nonsense tones with a perfectly deadpan delivery of some of the play’s most humorous lines, while Goodman-Hill’s Toby is an ominous figure as her morally questionable superior, who cares more about his own reputation than he is does about valid scientific research.
While Goold’s direction in the first half makes you wonder whether he’s mistaken Buether’s set for a gymnasium, the second half gains pace and looks more deeply into the four characters as their relationships become fraught and pent-up anger begins to burst from their troubled minds. Hille’s Lorna reveals a feisty side, Goodman-Hill’s smarmy Toby’s dark side gets a few shades darker and a mixture of animosity and intense love surges through Piper and O’Neill’s besotted couple.
Delving into the scientific unknown of the mind and the harsh reality of clinical depression, The Effect questions the efficacy of anti-depressants, taking the audience on a gripping journey that makes us wonder which subject is really on the placebo and whose relationship is truly at the forefront of this complex tale, the ultimate effect of which has audience members leaving the auditorium deeply moved.