Wednesday 23 August 2023

The Effect - Review

National Theatre, London


Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell

After a gap of some 11 years, the National Theatre’s revival of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is as timely as it is brilliant.

In this ingenious four-hander Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell are Tristan and Connie, two volunteers trialling an anti-depressant over a 4 week period in a secure residential facility. Michele Austin and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith are the clinicians Lorna and Toby, overseeing the trial, with Lorna being responsible for the trial’s execution, while Toby is from the drug company who have developed the medicine that’s being tested. In a tight single act that lasts 100 minutes, Prebble immerses us into the intensity of an improbable love that evolves between Tristan and Connie, while also exploring the doctors’ dynamics too.

Director Jamie Lloyd delivers electrifying theatre. Essiedu kicks off as the opportunistic chancer - eager to make a sexual conquest out of Connie, his swagger and machismo almost predatory in the play’s opening scenes. Russell’s Connie is an equally stunning performance as she explores her own responses to Tristan - and as the play unfolds, with one of them on the trialled medication and one on a placebo, the drama deepens to a level of human pain and passion that is at times unbearable to watch such is it’s intensity. In their own predatory sub-plot, the two medics are equally compelling.

As ever, designer Soutra Gilmour provides the staging for Lloyd’s vision, in this instance boldly transforming the Lyttleton’s proscenium stage into a traverse space with racks of seating upstage with the action playing out centrally. The colour scheme is a harsh black and white that Jon Clark’s brutal lighting plots enhance magnificently.

There’s so much to chew over in The Effect - not just the grief and humanity that is played out on stage, but also a wider contemplation of the manipulative powers of Big Pharma. In this post-pandemic world that Prebble could barely have contemplated when she penned her script, the world’s physiological reactions to both Covid and its panoply of speedily rolled-out vaccines, offer up some unexpectedly troubling analogies too.

The Effect is modern writing at its best and again, spectacularly, our National Theatre at its very best too. In Jamie Lloyd’s hands this makes for a night of outstanding, unforgettable theatre.

Runs until 7th October
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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