The Effect (Melbourne Theatre Company, 2014)
A guy and a girl take part in a clinical trial for a new anti-depressant drug and end up falling for each other. Is their love for real or is it simply a side effect? This is the question at the centre of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, but to be honest the sub-plot is far more intriguing. Raising questions about the biology of depression and the efficacy of medication, The Effect further explores the mystery of the human brain and our limited understanding of the cause of depression. This is a play that provides much food for thought, however there were some issues with its execution.
Though dealing with some really interesting material, the dialogue felt really forced and unnatural. At first I was unsure if this was the acting or the writing. Sigrid Thornton and William McInnes are acting veterans, and even their dialogue came out sounding awkward, so I’m going to assume it was the script. As the performance I attended was a preview it is possible the cast are still finding their way, but I’m inclined to think they deserve more credit than that. There were plenty of interesting conversations to be had between the characters, and I enjoyed the little psychology jokes as well as the deeper discussions about the brain. Unfortunately the way these were expressed seemed a bit original school production-ish.
Sigrid Thornton and William McInnes were both strong in their roles as the psychiatrist running the trial and her senior colleague, respectively. Their scenes together were highlights, particularly in the second act. Zahra Newman and Nathaniel Dean’s scenes together as trial participants Connie and Tristan were hit and miss but as stated above I’m inclined to think the writing was to blame for the misses.
Living up to its name, The Effect utilised some cool… wait for it… effects. Projected images of brain scans and data graphs added an almost futuristic vibe, and some weird-arse music/sound design by THE SWEATS complemented this well. The physical sets were minimalistic but effective in portraying the emptiness of the participants’ surroundings.
The Effect has the potential to be great. It covers interesting ground and leaves the audience with much to consider, however the quality of writing – or possibly the writing combined with the performances here – results in a somewhat awkward execution. See it later in the run and there may be some improvement.
The Effect is playing at the Southbank Theatre until 20th September