The Effect – Project Arts Theatre – Review by P McGovern
Rough Magic’s production of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is a compelling theatrical experience. It rivets our attention from beginning to end, engaging the head and the heart, making us unsure about what we think and what we feel – or what we think we feel.
The plot centres on the research experiments of a major drug company involved in psycho-pharmacology. The integrity of big pharma-chemical companies and their researchers is under the microscope. Central to the play is the whole question of the effect of anti-depressant drugs and the extent to which their effects alter or manipulate the “real” us – if there is such a thing, in the first place. Can we trust our feelings if our actions are determined by the shifting chemicals in our brains, whether natural or induced? It examines the overlaps and intersections between love, romance and sex.
A young man and a young woman, volunteers Connie (Siobhán Cullen) and Tristan (Donal Gallery), are waiting for the drug trial to begin. They seem vaguely bored, or at least uninterested in what they have undertaken. However, the battery of screen monitors overhead, flashing the name of the company as they count down to zero-hour should alert us to the possibility that this is just the calm before an emotional storm. Both performances are top-rate, moving through a whole gamut of emotions from quiet introspection to raging outbursts, from self-doubt to assumed confidence and back again. Moments of emotional and sexual intimacy that could so easily be clumsy and embarrassing are handled with deftness and composure.
As the two doctors, Toby and Lorna, Ronan Leahy and Ali White are excellently matched, a complicated mix of professional detachment and passionate involvement, with a shared past that is only intermittently acknowledged. Lorna’s projected appearance of detachment gradually erodes, the truth emerging only at the end.
Sarah Bacon’s set design, with the audience on all four sides, reinforces the impression that we are observing the professional observers and their subjects. In a play with such a hi-tec setting, equipment like flashing screens and bleeping monitors must convince and the AV design by Adam Gibney and Dara Hoban is superb, as is the lighting design by Sarah Jane Shiels and Denis Clohessy’s Music and Sound Design.
Prebble’s writing is as intelligent as it is entertaining – always probing, teasing, keeping us on our toes, forcing us to revise our impressions and confounding our expectations. It is well served by a fine cast, superbly orchestrated by Ronan Phelan’s direction. It deserves to be seen as it continues its run until April 1st.