During a drug trial for a new anti-depressant, two young participants begin to fall in love and threaten to derail the entire experiment. Meanwhile, the psychiatrists behind the trial are still unsure whether their experiment is proving anything at all. The Effect is a story about the boundary between the mind and the heart and whether the embracing of science and reason will destroy our conception of emotion or how we express love.
This production is a long one for Red Line, running at two hours with an interval. Large portions of time are devoted to characters fleshing out the complexity of the mind when it comes to delineating between emotion, mental health and stability, and someone’s personality. Focusing specifically on the effects of depression, love, and anti-depressants, the discussions are minute and based largely in personal belief, even with the psychiatrist characters. It has the effect of stimulating the audience to consider each opinion without pointing them to the “correct” one. If this area of research is something that interests you then this script will help to characterise the complexity but, if you aren’t interested in discussion of what a “real” emotion is or what causes depression, then large chunks of the production may become tedious.
As for the narrative, Tristan (Firass Dirani) and Connie (Emilie Cocquerel) are two young participants in the anti-depressant drug trial who quickly develop an attraction and hesitatingly begin to fall in love. Connie is a typical young woman, disappointed with her relationship and life trajectory, and she joins the trial to gain some control while her boyfriend’s away. Tristan’s character is given almost no backstory or motivation but demands Connie and the audience’s attention with his humour, charm, and good looks. Perhaps because of their circumstances as generic experiment participants their characters are given little shape or definition and they remain that way for the majority of the production. Until they begin their rebellion, and everything takes a turn for the worse. Both actors navigate the push and pull of their characters’ relationship well. They maintain strong and reliable characterisation even while being pushed to the limits physically and mentally.
Tristan and Connie’s parallels are the trial leading psychiatrist Lorna (Emma Jackson) and her boss Toby (Johnny Nasser). Unlike the young couple, these two have a long and complicated history of interweaving their personal and professional lives and overlapping love and reason. Their dynamic was less compelling because of this unspoken history but also allowed for more powerful rejections, especially in the discussion of Lorna’s own struggles with her mental health. Jackson portrays the most believable mental health professional I’ve seen on stage in a long time in the fact that she isn’t a walking, talking text book. She engages emotionally and humanely with the work she’s doing and acknowledges their reciprocal humanity. All actors carried a rather heavy script well and maintained consistent connection between each other and the audience.
The stand out aspect of this production is Alexander Berlage’s lighting design. With three lighting points of a floor grid, suspended lighting bars, and a conventional rig (with an additional disco ball) the design created an innovative balance between the clinical and futuristic tones of the production and the more fluid emotions of the characters. Combined with the minimal sound design (Benjamin Freeman) and set design (Brodie Simpson), the design overall served to enhance the production without becoming distracting or overbearing.
Blurring the positive and negative effects of medical intervention in the mind, the Effect portrays compelling argument and evidence for both sides without shoe-horning a neat solution. With a strong cast and excellent design, this production demonstrates how to effectively have these discussions on stage.
The Effect is running at Red Line Productions’s Old Fitz Theatre from April 19th – May 19th.