The Effect : Review – Thursday 26th April 2018, The Other Room @ Porter’s Cardiff

A fast paced and frenetic production, The Effect is a strong portrayal of the complex dynamics of mental health and falling in love.

★★★★☆

Meeting as participants on a drug trial for a new anti-depressant, Connie (Hussina Raja) and Tristan (Neal McWilliams) begin to develop feelings for each other. But are the symptoms they are experiencing genuine emotion, or merely a reaction to the chemicals coursing around their body? Directed by Artistic Director Dan Jones, The Other Room‘s production of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is a fast paced and emotive journey which leads the audience to question the very concept of love as perceived as a merely physiological reaction. Stuck together in an enclosed environment, described by Tristan as “A social experiment”, he and Connie meet and cautiously strike up a friendship. Coming from very different backgrounds – Connie the conscientious psychology undergrad and Tristan the drifting hedonist who wants to travel, they soon begin to experience similar symptoms; increased heart rate and libido, stomach aches and feelings of confusion.

As the play progresses Doctor Lorna James (Nicola Reynolds) and Doctor Toby Sealy (Jams Thomas) debate as to whether the test subjects’ symptoms are caused by the drug or are being developed naturally. This raises a fascinating debate which is the central premise of the play; what exactly is love? Is it just the release of certain hormones like dopamine in to the body which make you feel a certain way, or is it a more deep rooted connection between the souls of two people? Once again the staging at The Other Room is different but truly effective. The audience are sat on either side of a large square stage bathed in white. Underneath a grid of lighting are two cold metallic hospital beds, and a medical trolley, while at either side are television screens which show the participants heart rates, and remind the audience of what part of the experiment we are witnessing. Designed by Carl Davies, the set is a million miles away from his naturalistic design of All But Gone, and here is minimalist, clinical and precise which allows our focus to be on the dynamic between the characters.

The chemistry between Raja’s Connie & McWilliams’ Tristan is phenomenal; as the play progresses we witness their relationship developing from tentative flirtation to intense infatuation, and the dynamic between the pair is stunning in its complexity. One memorable scene sees the pair sneak out of the experiment to an asylum next door. Tristan shows his party trick to Connie – tap/folk dancing, and it is while they dance together that we see their realization about their own feelings come to the fore for the first time. Occasionally Mcwilliams’ frenetic energy means that his lines come out as a garbled mess and are difficult to hear, but overall the powerful interplay between the two pushes the show onwards.

The other two characters in the play are the two doctors running the experiment. There is clearly a history between the two, but the exact details of this are intentionally ambiguous. What is clear is that they have two very different approaches to mental health and pharmacology. Toby (Thomas)  believes that the right combination of hormones or chemicals could illicit any reaction dependent on the circumstances and sees himself as an explorer of the brain. Lorna (Reynolds) on the other hand is herself someone who has had episodes of depression and is cynical of the big-pharma industry designed to treat mental health as merely a lack of certain chemicals in the brain rather than a reaction to external factors.

It is here where the intellectual and the emotional worlds of the play collide, and the discussion of treating mental health becomes a reality. Reynolds has much of the emotional heavy lifting in the play and her performance is brilliant, ranging from light-hearted and comedic to that of a woman having a severe mental breakdown. Occasionally Prebble’s writing focuses too heavily on the scientific aspect at the expense of the emotional, however this production manages to capture the gut-wrenching drama inherent in the subject matter.  The production design may be clinical and cold in its nature, but the real human drama of this production is anything but; a powerful and raw depiction of depression and love.

 

The Effect is running at The Other Room Theatre until 14th April 2018. For more information and tickets click here

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