The Effect

Review: by Carole Woddis of performance seen Nov 24, 2012,
Cottesloe Theatre, National Theatre, London

`I think therefore I am’. What would the French philosopher, Descartes make of 21st century neuroscience claims wherein scientists claim so much of the mysteries of the brain can be revealed through the infamous MRI scanning process?

Would he snort in derision or luxuriate in the scientific developments that have enabled such breakthroughs to exist?

After dissecting the calamitous chicaneries of capitalism in her previous success, Enron, Lucy Prebble has now taken a walloping dose of scepticism to neuroscience. The Effect is by any standards a lethal, heartfelt and searing critique of the medical-psychological establishment’s stance on depression as a `disease’ that can, like any other disease be cured by drugs.

Along with Rupert Goold and his Headlong company – the same team behind Enron – they’ve produced a complex, painful and riveting two and half hours of theatre.

Whether it actually withstands cool, dispassionate analysis is hard to say because this is simply not a play or a production that allows for easy detachment.

With designer Miriam Buether, Goold cleverly sets it within an open-plan, yet intimate space that with its smart beige walls, low tables and benches, resembles a flashy if impersonal modern office waiting room.

As with the original production of Joe Penhall’s equally absorbing mental health probe, Blue/Orange, we the audience are part of the action.

Up close and very personal, we see every twitch and shudder following Jonjo O’Neill and Billie Piper as two volunteers in a drug trial set up by fictionalised pharmaceutical firm, Rauchen to counteract depression.

With one on the drug, the other on a placebo, Prebble exposes, step by highly scrutinised medical step, the devastating, unforeseen consequences on them both and on the two doctors accompanying them – Anastasia Hille’s quiet, empathetic but highly vulnerable Connie and Tom Goodman-Hill’s ambitious psychiatrist, Toby.

If Prebble’s conclusions finally seem contradictory and she takes rather too much dramatic license in the two psychologists inter-weaving personal lives, nothing can detract from the explosive power of the developing relationship between O’Neill and Piper. Nor reduce admiration both for Goold’s controlled direction or the performers almost sacrificial emotional commitment. Ovations, all the way. If we were giving stars, it would be high fives!

Doctors: Anastasia Hille, Tom Goodman-Hill
Trialists: Billie Piper,  Jonjo O’Neill

Director: Rupert Goold
Designer: Miriam Buether
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Music: Sarah Angliss
Projection Designer: Jon Driscoll
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt
Movement Director: Aletta Collins
Fight Director: Kate Waters
Company Voice Work: Jeannette Nelson

Assistant to the Lighting Designer: Kate Greaves
Assistant to the Designer: Lucy Sierra
Digital Artist: Tim Blazdell
Associate Projection Designer: Paul Kenah
Casting: Wendy Spon

World premiere of The Effect at the Cottesloe Theatre, London, Nov 13, 2012