by Lucy Prebble
Sydney Theatre Company
10 July – 16 August 2014
I’m about half way through my STC subscription for 2014 (a very expensive birthday present from my other half). After an underwhelming start to the season, my last three visits to the Wharf have been exciting – Mojo (despite lukewarm reviews), M Rock (a criminally short run!) and last night, The Effect.
My first encounter with British playwright Lucy Prebble’s work was her 2009 play Enron, produced on a shoestring as part of the New Theatre 2013 season. A storyteller of enormous talent, methodical research and considerable human insight, The Effect is a triumph of this young playwright of just 33.
Set over the course of a month-long pharmaceutical trial, The Effect follows human volunteers/lab rats Connie (Anna McGahan), a guarded young psychology student, and Tristan (Mark Leonard Winter) a playfully philosophical transient, as they are faced with the task of navigating this experiment, the effects of the drugs they are administered and their growing feelings for one another. Dr James (returning STC veteran Angie Milliken) finds herself, too, caught in the struggle to distinguish physiology and truth, struggling to maintain a facade of professional detachment against her own fragility. Toby (Eugene Gilfedder) is Dr James’ the charismatic supervising physician whose staunch belief in sadness as a medically treatable condition raises familiar ethical questions around big pharma and the diagnoses and treatment of mental illness. This is a story of love, loss, ethics, melancholy, and the challenge of mental health treatment for humans who are as varied as shells on a beach. The play presents its audience with much to think about long after the lights come up.
Sarah Goodes’ direction is sensitive and compelling, finding equal measures of playful humour and uncomfortable darkness. Several scenes have been highly choreographed, to great effect. Design by Renee Mulder and lighting by Ben Hughes work in tandem to create a familiarly stark and sterile setting, which allows the actors to focus on the task of unpacking this rich and penetrating story. There is, indeed, a great deal to unpack.
On the performance I attended there were some minor yet sustained fumbling of lines (and props) from all players, but handled expertly by the season cast this robbed nothing from the performance. I left the theatre raw. Good theatre makes you think. Excellent theatre makes you feel. The Effect does both.
Special mention must be made of the Assistant Stage Manager (in my haste to get my pre-show drink I didn’t get grab a program), who for this production has swapped the usual theatre blacks for surgical scrubs to manage props both on and off stage. A clever solution by Goodes.
Mobile phone count: 3 (though I think they were all from the same person)