Walking towards the Corpus Playroom for the opening night of The Effect, I was filled with a sense of trepidation. Issues of depression, medicine and the mind (which the play, written by Lucy Prebble, attempts to comment on) are serious, and have often not been represented competently in the media. The theatre was brimming with an equally nervy audience; the barren set design and medical atmosphere creating a sense of uneasiness that student theatre often fails to do confidently.
The introduction was convincing and realistic; all three actors were deeply sincere whilst remaining subtle. Os Leanse and Avigail Tlalim (as drugs trial volunteers Tristan and Connie respectively) developed their protagonists’ characteristics slowly, but with such depth and skill that one often forgot these were actors in role, especially during the scenes in which they appeared together. Both dealt with the delicate dialogue assuredly, and the audience immediately found themselves invested in the characters. The play continued in this vein: without giving away plot details, the scope of the doctor in charge of the trial, Lorna (played by Bethan Davidson) was phenomenal. The audience was moved from being ambivalent towards her to sorrowful; Davidson’s acting was tentative and poignant, and sensitively explored the nuances of a mental illness. The same perceptiveness can be witnessed in Tom Hilton’s confident doctor, Toby; his poised performance created a jarring, yet recognisable character. Hilton’s ability to deliver lines with an unfailing sense of self-assurance, such as declaring he had just returned from ‘paintballing with the boys’ in the middle of a medical crisis, relieved the emotional atmosphere.
In fact, the way in which comedy and grief was bridged was a credit to the director, Hannah Calascione. Often, the audience was in hysterics, which in turn allowed us to feel the extremes of emotion the play itself was trying to convey. On a technical level, the clips of drug manufacture heightened the claustrophobia of the trail, and the questions surrounding synthetic and ‘real’ emotion. This, combined with the professionally executed sound effects and music, allowed the audience to feel the growing panic and confusion of the plot itself.
All four actors were earnest, likeable and impressive at portraying the complexities of the human character. Despite the very rare)occasion in which the dialogue seemed laboured, the director should be extremely proud of her decisions, such as having her characters change clothes, and set up their ‘ward’ in front of the audience- which felt extremely ominous. The Effect managed to span the range of human emotion, from the darkest moments to the ecstasy of love, with an astounding competency.