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Reviews Sheffield Published 2 July 2015

The Effect

Crucible Studio ⋄ 25th June - 18th July 2015

Love is a drug.

John Murphy

It’s the clinical nature of the space that hits you first. As you walk into the Crucible’s studio theatre, you’re struck by the dazzling whiteness of Amanda Stoodley’s in-the-round set design. The studio has a shiny white floor so pristine that you feel almost guilty for walking over it to get to your equally white seat. Once you’re settled in, you might even notice a whiff of Dettol permeating the air. It’s a bit like sitting in a laboratory. Which is, of course, exactly the point.

In her 2012 The Effect, here receiving its regional premiere, Lucy Prebble casts the audience as observers of a scientific experiment: two volunteers are undergoing a trial of a new, unlicensed anti-depressant – a “Viagra for the heart” as one scientist memorably describes it. The two volunteers become close, and end up falling in love – but is this because of the new drug they’re testing, or in spite of it? While on one level it’s a smaller-scale work than Prebble’s Enron, it tackles some equally big questions: as noted 80s troubadour Howard Jones once sang: “what is love, anyway?”

I didn’t see the original staging of The Effect at the National Theatre. Yet the general consensus from the reviews of the time seemed to be that Prebble’s intelligent script got slightly buried within Rupert Goode’s flashy production. Here director Daniel Evans has stripped things back, foregrounding Prebble’s dialogue. He’s assisted in this by a superb four-strong cast. The performances are truly excellent. 

That said, Evans’ production is hardly minimalist. Imagery of the brain, its various systems illuminated, is projected on a series of screens positioned in each of the four corners of the room and a huge, anxiety inducing clock ticks down the time left during the interval. Yet it’s the actors that make the deepest impression. Ophelia Lovibond and Henry Pettigrew as Connie and Tristan, the two volunteers, make for an atractive, realistic couple. Despite their differences – she’s sensible and slightly nervy, he’s louche, laidback and flirty – you end up believing in their relationship completely and that their attraction might have come about without the medication. Priyanga Burford and Stuart Bunce also  impress as the lab supervisors with a shared history of their own, but it’s Bunford whose performance really sticks in the mind as her own depression and anxiety starts to grip. 

Prebble’s play is a fascinating piece of writing, thematically rich yet highly accessible, and often blisteringly funny (“there’s no need to write a fucking sonnet about it” snaps Lovibond when Burford asks whether Tristan had ejaculated inside her during their sexual liaison the night before). By the time events take a darker turn during the second half we’re invested in these people and what happens to them. The intimate, in the round seating helps in this regard as well.

This is the latest in a series of regional premieres of acclaimed London productions (following on from That Face, The Village Bike and The Pride) which Evans has  brought to the North. The Effect in particular feels like it benefits from having a second life, from being rethought and restaged. It’s a scintillating piece of theatre, an intelligent, funny and touching study of love and its effects.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

The Effect Show Info


Cast includes Ophelia Lovibond, Henry Pettigrew, Priyanga Burford, Stuart Bunce

Link http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/

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