Harrowing, heart-breaking and comical, Felicity Chilver’s take on The Effect may not leave you on a high but the withdrawal symptoms certainly don’t take long to kick in. The production’s exploration of love, loss and mental illness is honest and striking, following the experiences of two doctors and two participants through an intense and emotional drug trial. Obstacles and complications are at every turn and this, along with the insight on the creation and break down of relationships, is what makes it such an enthralling and uncomfortably penetrative play.
“Sending the audience into outbursts of laughter”
From the get-go it felt like I’d been thrown into a hospital with the sparse white set, bright lights and computer screens creating a clinical, intrusive atmosphere. Throw four talented actors and Felicity Chilver into the mix and an absorbing production is formed. Kate Maguire immediately set herself up for a stellar performance with her matter-of-fact, yet playful portrayal of Dr Lorna James; her comic timing and facial expressions sending the audience into outbursts of laughter.
Luke Slater was soon to follow, with his deliverance of cheeky, off-hand comments and total investment in Tristan’s character helping to fuel the interactions and relationships between all actors. Lois Baglin’s defensive yet endearing Connie and Louis Djalili’s impressively dis-likeable Dr Toby Sealey completed the exemplary cast.
“It warmed my heart witnessing this developing love onstage”
The first act was extremely funny with the underlying serious and unsettling nature of the play broken up by comedy and light-heartedness. The jokes were expertly delivered and, despite a slightly clunky transition into Dr Lorna’s soliloquy-style moment, the mental strife and darker themes of the production were powerfully addressed through moving music, isolative lighting and a voice-over for the characters’ inner thoughts. The contrast between Dr Lorna’s private, emotional scene and Dr Toby’s bold, interactive endeavour with the audience, was particularly effective in gauging a sense of their characters, making me feel rather uneasy under the stare of Louis Djalili and wounded by Kate Maguire’s performance.
The chemistry between Lois Baglin and Luke Slater in the first act was tangible, with the heartwarming, innocent teasing brought up against the sexy, passionate nature of Connie and Tristan’s growing relationship. It warmed my heart witnessing this developing love onstage, so much so that I found the sharing of a cigarette romantic despite the smell. The audience’s nervous laughter and awkwardness during the dimly-lit sex scene showed just how intimate these two actors made this moment as we felt intrusive watching it.
The second act took a darker route with the heartbeat sound effects, lit up beds, screens and music rapidly becoming inescapable entities on stage. The scientific, inhuman aspect of the trial was emphasised through these things monitoring Tristan and Connie’s progress and at the same time, the emotional lows of human experience and relationships were explicitly explored with only fleeting points of humour.
“The emotions between Baglin and Slater seemed truly heartfelt”
The dead silence and tension in the room during Connie and Tristan’s arguments reflected my own heartache, as the emotions between Baglin and Slater seemed truly heartfelt, making the outbursts and violence utterly painful to watch. Dr Lorna’s degression was just as heart-wrenching, and when the play came to a bitter end, Kate Maguire left a remarkable impression.
A moving yet equally unsettling play, The Effect takes you through a series of intense emotions forcing you to look at the state of humanity and your own mental state. The cohesion of set, lighting and sound along with the talent of the cast and crew served to create this gripping and thoroughly impressive production.
9/10 – Unmissable, almost perfect