The Effect By Lucy Prebble at Bridewell Theatre

Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is an absorbing play that wrestles with big issues head-on. One being the ethics of the medical profession and the efficacy behind its research results; the other is how difficult it is to hang onto our own thorny selves and the principles we might sacrifice under duress. It’s also a hilarious boy meets girl romp, replete with passion, sexual attraction, accusation and resolution – but at a considerable cost.

The Effect – Image Credit Stephen Russell.
The Effect – Image Credit Stephen Russell.

Set in a drugs-trial unit at a pharmaceutical firm, we’re introduced to the slipshod methods of preliminary interview, a psychological tool used to determine which volunteers are mentally and physically fit to begin an experimental trial of antidepressant Agent RLU37. Supposedly, this antidepressant will produce a surge of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that heightens feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and motivation.

The Effect begins midway through the interview process with Lorna (Jessica Dawes), a psychiatrically trained doctor posing questions to the quick-witted Connie (Jess Rogers) to determine her suitability as a volunteer candidate. Connie is a psychology student who’s curious about drugs trials and speaks about a boyfriend who seems more like a background figure than central to her life.

The second interview is with Tristan (Omar Aga), a boastful, young man who speaks of his desire to travel and views the drugs-trial endeavour as a way to earn some extra cash. He is confrontational, flirtatious, and carries with him an air of inferiority, vulnerability and uncertainty. His behaviour sends up a red flag to Lorna, one she ignores at Tristan’s peril.

Both Connie and Tristan are deemed suitable candidates for the pharmaceutical trial and begin their arduous descent into anti-depressant hell on a 25 milligram low-dosage of Agent RLU37.

Parallel to the roller-coaster romance about to take place between these two trusting volunteers, is an ill-fated romance between Lorna and the pharmaceutical firm’s medical lead Toby (Daniel Saunders) the doctor in charge of the anti-depressant experiment. Toby fervently believes the cause of depression is merely a chemical imbalance in the brain and exalts the advent of anti-depressants as a universal cure-all. Lorna, who suffered deeply after her breakup with Toby, takes an opposing stance. She believes depressed people have a more accurate view of the world and deems the taking of anti-depressants as a hindrance to wellbeing.

As the dosages of Agent RLU37 are increased from 25 to 150 milligrams, what we expect to happen does happen.

Connie and Tristan trade in their feelings of sexual euphoria for feelings of paranoia, distrust, hatred and violence. At one point the rage and accusations volleyed between them seemed certain to end in brutal murder. It doesn’t happen but something nearly as terrifying ensues.

To say anymore would spoil the fun of seeing the play and guessing the twists and turns of the plot.

Let it suffice to say, The Effect is a brilliant thought-through exercise in the dangers of taking pharmaceuticals and their effects; a warning about the profits made on the backs of volunteers who participate in drugs trials, and a high-wire lustful encounter between Connie and Tristan. Go! Enjoy!

4 Stars

Review by Loretta Monaco

Two young volunteers, Tristan and Connie, agree to take part in a clinical drug trial. Succumbing to the gravitational pull of attraction and love, however, Tristan and Connie manage to throw the trial off-course, much to the frustration of the clinicians involved. This funny, moving and perhaps surprisingly human play explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine, alongside ideas of fate, loyalty and the inevitability of physical attraction.

This show contains references to mental illness, and sexual language and actions.

CONNIE | Jess Rogers
TRISTAN | Omar Aga
LORNA | Jessica Dawes
TOBY | Daniel Saunders
NURSE | Sophie Goodman

DIRECTOR | Jonathon Harding-Cooper
PRODUCER | Ben Hussey
SET REALISATION | Andrew Laidlaw
STAGE MANAGER | Laura Martin
PROPS | Aimee Parnell
MARKETING and COSTUMES | Natalie Harding-Cooper
PHOTOGRAPHY | Stephen Russell

The Effect
A clinical romance exploring the limits of medicine and the inevitability of physical attraction
21-25 MARCH 2023