Review: The Effect
The Effect is a tender four-hander about the melancholic mind, the morality of medical treatments and the wonder of love.
English writer Lucy Prebble had a huge hit on her hands with Enron, an account of the collapse of the energy giant. She was praised for demystifying the murky pool of financial shenanigans, even managing to make a dry subject a little more glamorous with a scattering of musical numbers. This, her follow-up play, is not so flashy but I found it much more satisfying. It grapples with a complex subject, that is, the workings of the brain and how it can all go wrong. And Prebble still makes room for a dance sequence.
The story is set in a private medical facility. Trials are in progress on the next wonder pill to treat depression and two paid volunteers sign up to be human guinea pigs. The twenty-somethings agree to be confined for four weeks with no outside contact. Their bodies will be used to discover and explain side effects. They hand over their mobile phones and as you might imagine, there is no booze, no fags and no sex…but lots of drugs.
In this clinical space, effectively realised in Renee Mulder’s design, they find themselves bossed about by a lab-coated Dr. James (Angie Milliken) with her senior colleague and past love interest Toby (Eugene Gilfedder) watching on. Briefly able to escape the careful monitoring, the fragile, old beyond her years, Connie (Anna McGahan) and volatile Tristan (Mark Leonard Winter) start to fall in love. This development throws their trial-masters into a spin, as well as Connie, who is thinking it might all be a chemical con job.
Prebble’s intention is to lift the veil on depressive illness. Her argument that medications shouldn’t be handed out like candy is certainly persuasive. Her script, if overlong, is also filled with humour, wit and warmth and is well served here by director Sarah Goodes. Both McGahan and Leonard Winter are charismatic performers and together they bring an explosive chemistry to the stage. Their brilliantly choreographed love scene (created by movement consultant Bill Simpson) is one of the highlights of the show. Milliken and Gilfedder are solid.
It’s not a flawless play or production but there were enough special moments for me to enjoy the ride.
The Effect plays at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company Until 16 August.
Bookings at www.sydneytheatre.com.au