In British playwright Lucy Prebble’s play THE EFFECT two game young people, psychology student Connie (Anna McGahan) and charming drifter Tristan (Mark Leonard Winter) are volunteers in the clinical trial of a new anti-depressant super drug. Forties something psychiatrist Dr James (Angie Milliken) administers the trial over a four week period under the supervision of Dr Toby (Eugene Gilfedder) in residential quarters inside the pharmaceutical company premises.
Connie and Tristan spend a lot of time in each other’s company and, against all the rules, they start to fall for each other. Their romance threatens to play havoc with the rigor of the trial.
It’s an intriguing scenario for what turns out to be an engrossing night in the theatre.
The play’s intense tone is set very early on when Dr James comes on stage with a human brain in her hand, a moment that brings to mind the classic graveyard scene in Hamlet.
The audience is drawn in to following the four feisty characters and the conflicts that emerge between the two pairings. Tristan and Connie argue as to whether the feelings emerging between them are natural or the result of being under the influence?!
Dr James and Dr Toby come from polar opposite positions of the psych drug debate. Dr James sees drugs as often being the soft option, Dr Toby believe they are the genuine balm for depressive illness.
The four actors, Angie Milliken and Eugene Gilfedder as the medicos and Anna McGahan and Mark Leonard Winter as the bold youngsters, ‘hold’ their characters well.
Sarah Goodes’s production serves the play well. Highlights from the design team were Renee Mulder’s set which clearly portrayed the play’s very clinical, hospital setting, and Guy Webster’s edgy, contemporary soundscape.
The effect of Prebble’s play is that the arguments and debates between the characters reverberate long after the show has come to an end.
To end on a quote from the Bard.
‘What a piece of work is man…how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals- and yet, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me-’
I guess Shakespeare would be on anti-depressants if he was alive now. A diluted Shakespeare. An awful thing to contemplate.
Recommended, a joint Sydney Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company production, Lucy Prebble’s THE EFFECT opened at Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company on Saturday 12th July and is playing until Saturday 16th August, 2014.