Two patients falling in love. Is it their own emotions, or the drugs talking? And does it matter? Emily Garside finds out:

‘How do we know what we’re feeling?’

More specifically,

‘How do we know if we’re in love?’

It’s a simple premise, two patients under a clinical trial believe they fall in love. But is it their own emotions, or the drugs talking – more importantly how much does that matter, if all emotions are chemical responses? Lucy Prebble’s 2012 play The Effect explores questions about how we think about mental health and just how little we understand about ourselves.

The Effect The Other Room

Nicola Reynolds, Jams Thomas, Neal McWilliams & Hussina Raja (image courtesy of Kieran Cudlip)

Connie (Hussina Raja) and Tristan (Neal McWilliams) volunteer for a study monitored by their doctors (Nicola Reynolds and Jâms Thomas). The first half of The Effect is an often funny, charming flirtation, peppered with questions about the nature of research, the way human brains work and our mental & physical health. There’s a vulnerability to Raja’s performance as the more reserved Connie, one that is easy to warm to. McWilliams plays Tristan’s swaggering confidence with clear enjoyment and has a real instinct for the comedy in the role, which is later balanced by a moving performance as the story develops. Parallel to the volunteers, Reynolds & Thomas explore an older affair, while Reynold’s Dr Jones strives to face up to her own struggles as she tries to direct the trial. Reynolds gives a slow burn to a devastating performance; her character’s past is drip fed into the writing, allowing her to slowly peel away the layers and leave a raw and moving final scene for her character.

The Effect The Other Room

Nicola Reynolds & Jams Thomas (imagae courtesy of Kieran Cudlip)

The opening scene of The Effect comments on the characters being held in the hospital for the duration of the stay. Staging it in the intimacy of The Other Room, with the audience on two sides of the action, creates immediately a shared experience that is likely less profound in larger theatres. Carl Davies‘ design incorporates two television screens, which among their other Orwellian functions, include countdowns at various points in the action. This integration is highly effective in pulling the audience into the world of the play. The rest of the design – fittingly clinical and sparse – makes clever use of the limited space and is uncomplicated enough to allow Joe Fletcher‘s lighting and Tick Ashfield‘s sound to combine and create The Effect with deceptively little.

The Effect The Other Room

Neal McWilliams & Hussina Raja (image courtesy of Kieran Cudlip)

Dan Jones’ direction is clean and straightforward – his instinct to let Prebble’s text speak largely for itself is a good one. The Effect as a play could suffer from over-complicated direction, but instead it is only embellished when needed. There’s a balance between naturalism – a rhythm to the characters’ speech that pulls the comedy through – and a vein of surrealism running through the show. The sense of a slightly disjointed world, mirroring the effect of the drugs, feels like it’s pulled through in the direction – just enough to feed into the audience’s mind, the sense of questioning both what we’re experiencing and what we think of it. There’s a shrewd understanding of Prebble’s writing in Jones’ direction, which makes The Effect a strong directorial debut since his appointment as Artistic Director of The Other Room.

 

 

★★★☆☆

The Effect runs at The Other Room until 12 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.