National Theatre, South Bank, London in a co-production with Headlong presents the World Premiere of THE EFFECT by Lucy Prebble in the Cottesloe Theatre.
I saw this production in London, in early January, 2013.
THE EFFECT by Lucy Prebble is a co-production between the National Theatre (NT) and Headlong. This play is the follow-on of the partnership between Ms Prebble and the director Rupert Goold of the Headlong company, that created and presented ENRON, firstly at the Chichester Festival and then on transfer to the Royal Court Jerwood Downstairs Theatre and, subsequently,to the Noel Coward Theatre, in the West End, in 2009. I saw ENRON, in the ill-fated production on Broadway, in 2010.
Depression is the flaw in love. To be creatures who love, we must be creatures who can despair at what we lose, and depression is the mechanism of that despair
-Andrew Solomon, from The Noonday Demon, 2001.
THE EFFECT is a play for four actors and is set in a research facility for a large pharmaceutical company studying the efficacy of a new drug regime in pursuit of relief for depression. Two volunteers, who are being paid to do so, two Triallists, not known to be sufferers of depression, Connie (Billie Piper) and Tristan (Jonjo O'Neil) meet over the first exchange of their urine to the Doctors. They begin the trial and are measured closely, with brain scans etc for the benefits of the drug-given regime, as it escalates and processes over the time of the research. The rules for the trial are strict but these two, whether it be because of the drugs or not, find themselves in a burgeoning affair, catapulted into sexual intercourse after a tap-dancing wooer seduces all, to the tune "I've Got You Under My Skin". Both of these volunteers have emotional baggage and history - she, a part-time psychology student with a teetering outside relationship; he, a free wheeling wastrel not anchored by any firm view for his life's future. What complicates the matter is that Connie suspects that one of them may be on a placebo, and as they try to ascertain as to whether their 'love' for each other is the result of the drugs or otherwise, strain and paranoia sets in: to darkening abysses of hell!
In classical times, when such things were properly understood, Eros was considered a god whose divinity transcended our human limits, and who therefore could be neither comprehended nor represented in any way. I might, as many before me have attempted to do, venture an approach to this daimon, whose range of activity extends from the endless spaces of the heavens to the dark abysses of hell; but I falter before the task of finding the language which might adequately express the incalculable paradoxes of love.Supervising the trial is a psychiatrist, Doctor James (Anastasia Hille), employed and directed by another doctor, Toby (Tom Goodman-Hill), representative of the pharmaceutical company undertaking the trial. The complication here is that, once, upon a time, not to distant, these two met at a convention and had a love affair, and we learn that Dr James, is herself susceptible to episodes of depression. Her last bout may have being triggered with the breakdown of their relationship.
- Carl Jung.
Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as well as a dark horse and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not so punish'd and cured is that the lunacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too.
Shakespeare, AS YOU LIKE IT.The play tackles some big subjects: love; the role of placebos in medicine; the ethics around research been done by commercially biased interests and their ability to read the results accurately, objectively; when reading the scientific-babble, neuroscience literature about the brain, contemporaneously - just how much do the scientists really know of it? how much should we believe "the junk enlightenment of the popular brain industry"? ; whether depression is reaching epidemic status and is simply a chemical imbalance in the brain which the pharmaceutical companies can relieve; or, more simply that depression is a normal, natural state that the super sensitive have always experienced - a natural part of the human condition rather than illness, and that neuroscience does not have the right to be the ultimate arbiter of any human activity; if pain can be relieved, should medication be a safety valve to be able to endure, accepting that it cannot cure, rather just dulling, temporarily the symptoms?; are the after effects worth the risks?
So, here we have two love stories wrapped within a big contemporary debate on issues of great import. Here is an example of the kind of writing that I find so rarely in Australian playscripts. Particularly, of late. Big ideas entwined in an ordinary rom-com mode. Serious, romantic, comic and tragic. Challenging. Intelligent. Researched!
Rupert Goold (we have seen some of his work: SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR) has directed this work in the round in the Cottesloe Theatre, with an immersive set, by Miriam Buether (the second set of her's I have seen in this visit: IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS, at the Royal Court, being the other), the audience sitting as if in the waiting room of the clinic, surrounding the actors and their spaces, with some projection design to enhance the science and its explications - not too much - on the surrounding walls and floor, with lighting by Jon Clark and music by Sarah Angliss and sound design by Christoher Shutt.
The performances are gripping and in this small space totally enveloping, Ms Piper and Mr O'Neill travelling through the travails of 'love' and its consequences, and Mr Goodman-Hill anchoring the debate for commercial science balancing the love debris with Anastasia Hille's remarkably detailed and ultimately, dreadfully moving Dr James, from objective clinician to fragile depressant to surrendering survivor. Ms Hille's work is amazing, surrounded by an ensemble of near flawless immersion and support.
The little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists. But of greater concern is the fact that psychologists tend to give progressively less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives. Psychologists, at least psychologists who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or affection, but they seem to be unaware of its very existence."
- Harry Harlow, American psychologist, 1958.
One can only hope that Sydney gets to see this play, sooner, rather than, later. Lucy Prebbles a writer of some skill and importance. THE SUGAR SYNDROME, ENRON , THE EFFECT. What's next?
P.S. ENRON is to be seen at the New Theatre in the coming months. It is a mammoth undertaking and I wish that company the best, but, like the New Theatre's artistic management, I agree, it is too important a play not to be seen in Sydney. Too big, I guess for the Sydney Theatre Company or Belvoir and their budgets?