Review: The Effect (Old Fitz Theatre)

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 18 – May 19, 2018
Playwright: Lucy Prebble
Director: Andrew Henry
Cast: Emilie Cocquerel, Firass Dirani, Emma Jackson, Johnny Nasser
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Connie and Tristan are participants in a medical trial involving antidepressants. Temporarily shut off from the world, they live inside a science facility with only each other for company, and very quickly develop a strong romantic connection. Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is interested in the chemical aspects of what we understand to be human nature, and the moral implications of drugs we design to alter our experience of life. It poses questions about what we consider to constitute authenticity in being human, and looks at the ways in which we place value on things we term natural and synthetic.

The play is ridden with anxiety, fuelled by the pervasive scepticism we have of pharmacology and the money around it, but a puerile disquiet is undeniably present, that relies on reductive ideas presupposing the natural to always be unquestionably better. The Effect features scene after scene of tense drama, which director Andrew Henry is certainly not averse to amplifying at every opportunity for maximum theatricality. Alexander Berlage’s lights are accordingly bold and intrepid, effective in delivering some memorably stark imagery. The show is often gripping, with an intensity that sustains our attention, but its arguments are not always persuasive. It arouses intrigue, without providing sufficient rationale for us to feel satisfied with the statements it attempts to make.

Actor Johnny Nasser brings valuable subtlety to the role of Toby, alternating between good and bad guy, for a sense of complexity that resonates with truth, in this discussion of mental health and modern medicine. Other players have a significantly more grandiose approach, that can restrict us from reaching a greater understanding of the text’s nuances. Their extravagant gestures make for an energetic performance, but our access to the psychology of characters is consequently limited. The Effect contains philosophy that matters to us all, although a more detailed conveyance of meanings would be necessary for the production to affect us deeper.

As we watch ourselves being challenged by medicine, unable to submit easily to the science, we see an obstinate belief in a state of purity, and are prompted to interrogate the validity of our trust in naive ideals associated with all things “natural”. It is also similarly evident that when individuals are called upon to put their lives in the hands of others, trust is an issue that can never be made completely unassailable. Underlying these thoughts are fears that reflect our need for self-preservation. We can doubtless see the insignificance of the human race in the widest scheme of things, but our indomitable hunger for control seems essential to how we think and act, even when we know the futility of our efforts.