The New Theatre’s second in-house play this season is Lucy Prebble’s psychological drama, The Effect. Set in a drug testing clinic, the play follows volunteers Tristan (Luke Slater) and Connie (Lois Baglin), who have agreed to test a new form of anti-depressant. To the dismay of their observers, Dr Lorna James (Kate Maguire) and Dr Toby Sealey (Louis Djalili), the young test subjects find themselves falling in love despite being unsure as to whether or not the feelings running through them are simply clinical side-effects. Impact sat down with Slater, Maguire, director Felicity Chilver and producer Rosie Hudson to discuss this disorientating approach to the concept of human emotion.
It was the play’s unnerving look at what makes us human that first attracted Chilver. “I feel Lucy Prebble writes humanity really well and really truthfully”, she explains, having be drawn in by a script which buzzes with raw passion and wit. “Every time I watch the actors perform, there’s another line I will pick out, another line I will fall in love with.”
Maguire agrees, noting the contemporary significance of the play’s emotional subject matter. “There’s the theme of love, and what that means to different people, but there’s also the theme of depression and how we deal with the stigma around it. As a community we are finally beginning to talk about depression, so I think it’s important that a play like this gets produced.”
Indeed, the intensity of the play’s approach to human sentiment is something felt by the whole cast. “It can go through a whole spectrum of emotions,” Slater points out, “and I guess you could say it does so in a very visceral way”.
“I haven’t done anything like this at the NNT before”
That’s not to say, however, that The Effect is without its lighter moments. “You might expect a clinical romance to be a bit full-on,” considers Slater, “but it’s very human in its sense of humour”. It seems that even in the sterilised confines of a test centre, bitterly human comedy is not lost.
Of course, the uncompromising nature of the play was by no means easy for the cast to get to grips with. “It was quite difficult at the beginning,” admits Hudson, noting the script’s open treatment of love and, inevitably, sex. “We were definitely conscious of the fact that the cast had to be OK with what was being asked of them.”
“There’s a lot of new challenges in this play,” Slater agrees. “I haven’t done anything like this at the NNT before.” However, both actors feel that Chilver and Hudson’s rehearsal techniques helped set them at ease. As Maguire explains, “the directing process has been very creative. Everything is done through workshops and games rather than just standing up and reading lines”.
“This is something that is going to engage a lot of people…”
As Slater point out, the active rehearsal process and deeply personal cast discussions allowed them to feel more comfortable getting into their roles. “I feel like with this play – more than any other I’ve done here – it’s not just about line-learning. There’s a lot of character development and physicality as well.”
As well as making the characters their own, the team are also keen to take their own approach to the play itself. The less romantic but equally thought-provoking parallel story of the doctors is something which Hudson feels deserves a more prominent place in their production: “I see the most powerful part as Dr James’s journey through depression and the questions it raises to do with mental health”.
Maguire, who plays Dr James, explains further: “it’s also about how Dr James deals with her depression whilst overseeing the trial. This is something that is going to engage a lot of people, so it’s important to keep the performance as real and as sensitive as possible.”
The team are also keen to make their mark on the technical side of the production. Chilver describes her initial approach to the play as purely visual: “I first started thinking about the set and how I wanted it to look. I didn’t want to interpret anything directly, I wanted it to be quite abstract, to make it more fluid”.
“The Effect will stay with you long after the performance ends”
In addition to the pale white set, startlingly coloured stage lights, and ever-present TV monitors, there is of course the matter of the bed boxes. “We’ve got light-up bed boxes,” she cheerfully proclaims, alluding to the two large white cuboids that act as the test subjects’ beds. “We’re playing around with transparency here, so the boxes will mimic the emotions of the lovers as well as their heartbeats.”
By projecting filtered lights onto the white material that covers each box, the crew can visually enhance the rush of feelings felt by Connie and Tristan. As Chilver succinctly puts it, “the LEDs pulse as the dopamine rushes around their systems”.
Perhaps this gets to the heart of the whole production. This is a play which leads us to ponder whether or not our emotions are truly natural, or whether our love for one another is nothing more than a dopamine-fuelled “clinical romance”. Distorted and disturbing, but with an undercurrent of bitterly subversive humour, one gets the feeling that The Effect will stay with you long after the performance ends.
The Effect is on at the Nottingham New Theatre from 8th to 11th November 2017.
Play poster courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre.
Rehearsal image courtesy of Sam Young.