The Effect (National Theatre, November 2012- January 2013)

Poster Image for The Effect (c) National Theatre

Experiment begins‘.

The audience is entering the auditorium of the Cottesloe Theatre, and they are also entering the waiting room of the Raushen Pharmaceutical Company where drug  trials will take place.  We are given wristbands to add to the effect that we are also patients in the trial.  Sitting on mustard yellow seats, on the red carpet the  next a small coffee table, I felt I my seat was actually on the set.

Lucy Prebble’s play explores whether falling in love is caused by chemicals in the brain, and whether depression can be cured by drugs, or is triggered by events in people’s lives. The debates are carefully conveyed through the dialogue between the four characters – two trialists and two doctors.

The play is such a success because of the dialogue and structure and because there are some fantastic performances from the cast.  There are two doctors, Toby and Lorna, played by Tom Goodman-Hill  and Anastasia Hille  and two trialists Connie played by Billie Piper  and Tristan played by Jonjo O’Neill.  Billie Piper and JonJo O’Neill were excellent in this production and really made me feel that they had really fallen in love.  Connie who tends to analyse, but when she is falling in love there is a sense of irony that she doesn’t really understand what is happening to her. Billie Piper is able to portray the awkwardness of the early moments of the relationship, such as fiddling with her hair, and the rubbing of the back of her shin with the other foot.  Much of the dialogue is very quick and there is a rhythm to it.  Some of the scenes are overlaid to great effect, and this was a device that the director Rupert Goold also used in his RSC Romeo and Juliet production.

The production is very visual.  Data is projected onto Connie and Tristan’s body and across the floor, as if this is how they might be made up. There’s a very poignant moment towards the end of the production, where Lorna mops up blood, and a brain projected onto the stage floor.

The shift from the clinic to the old asylum adds a lovely contrast and undermines the rigour and routine of the trial.  This is the moment that Tristan and Connie become closer. The highlight, which was Jonjo O’Neill’s tap dance. It reminded me of the time he danced to Mr Bojangles as part of the RSC Gala in 2011.  The Saturday Review reviewer said that the tap dance represented the exhilaration of falling in love, and I thought that was a lovely way to describe it.  The lovers/trialists are interrupted by Lorna and as an audience we don’t get our moment of applause, so I felt denied of my moment of acknowledgement and felt that the trialists had as well.  This makes the frustration conveyed as Connie and Tristan are kept apart after the discovery more relevant.

Just before the interval Tristan and Connie manage to escape the restrictions placed on them and meet in Connie’s room.  There’s a very tender scene between when they eventually make love.  In the interval, someone said to me that they didn’t want their heart broken, and there was a sense then that all would not be well at the end of the play.

The doctor scenes at times seemed a distraction from the young lovers, but they offered a contrast and another angle. I felt that the brain in the bucket was a little too slapstick and even though the TED style speech given by Toby does get across his viewpoint well, it did not work  in relation to the rest of the dialogue.  I think that was because I was so interested in Connie and Tristan, I wanted to see more of their narrative. However, as Lorna’s story was revealed, I was surprised, and as she moved towards the tablets at the end, it was if she’d been dissolved into the illusion that she so much wanted to dispute.

What kept me engaged throughout was that I felt I was so close to the performance both physically and emotionally.

Connie and Tristan walk off stage at the end of the play as Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Keep Breathing’ is playing, it made me feel that there was some hope.

The Effect runs until Feb 23rd at the National Theatre.

Reviews (all links are to external sites)

Jonjo O'Neill National Theatre Rupert Goold The Effect

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