The Effect, Review
WORDS BY LLEWELYN HORGAN
What does love mean if it’s nothing more than a chemical reaction?
The Effect, written by Lucy Prebble and directed by Andrew Henry, explores the experiences of two young people who take part in a clinical trial investigating the side effects of a new antidepressant. Things go awry as the two act on their mutual attraction and promptly fall in love. The pair grow paranoid and insecure upon realising that what they are feeling for each other could be nothing more than a side effect of the trial drug. Their actions endanger not only the success of the trial but their mental and physical well-being. On the other side of the divide, the researchers conducting the test run into issues of their own, clashing over a shared past and their fundamentally different views on the role of medicine in the modern world.
The Effect, on the whole, is a triumph, and an immersive theatrical experience one is unlikely to have at any of the larger theatres in Sydney. The production makes innovative use of the relatively small space, with the line between the audience and the stage frequently crossed. The music is excellent, engaging one in the clinical and futuristic setting of the play, with many a burbling synth and sine wave to be found. The lighting is also great, but if you don’t react well to strobe lighting, this may not be the play for you. Some of the plot twists reminded me of the trash-classic Secret Diary of a Callgirl, also written by Prebble, meaning the play remains accessible and entertaining in spite of its heavy themes.
The cast is outstanding, with the two leads doing an especially great job of building chemistry and creating empathy for their unusual predicament. Firass Dirani, in particular, delivers a hugely energetic performance. Although there are no huge problems with the show, one issue is that it was unclear what accent Emilie Cocquerel was attempting - at times it sounded like an American accent, but at other times it didn't, which proved distracting. Likewise, at times the B- plot featuring the two researchers tended to drag slightly, with the drug-aided love affair proving the more engaging component of the show. However, these are minor issues and did not significantly detract from the strength of this innovative production. Overall, The Effect is a moving and thought-provoking play that explores the ambiguity of love, and calls into questions the existence of autonomy in a world where a pill can not only alter one's mood, but also one's thoughts. It is a production well worth seeing, and the questions it asks will linger with you long afterwards.
Tickets are available here.