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Theatre Review: ‘The Effect’ is dazzling

The Effect by British writer Lucy Prebble is the latest public offering from Auckland Theatre Company and it is dazzling.

The action centres around a clinical drug trial of a potential treatment for depression and ironically the location is a former psychiatric hospital. The study is being run by Dr Toby Sealey (Jarod Rawiri) and Dr Lorna James (Sara Wiseman) who it turns out have a complicated romantic past. 

While other participants in the study are referred to, the only ones we meet are Connie Hall (Zoë Robins) and Tristan Frey (Jayden Daniels) and we witness their interactions with both the researchers and one another as they grapple with the, at times, disturbing effects of the powerful antidepressant. 

As their feelings for one another intensify, questions arise about the authenticity of their emotions and the influence of the drug. 

The play expertly delves into the complexities of human connection, identity, and the ethical implications of pharmaceutical interventions. It challenges our beliefs about how humans experience love and exposes how much we still don’t know about mental illness and our own potential fragility. 

This well crafted script and story are enhanced by the expertise of the cast. Each actor gave strong, confident and multi-dimensional performances. In one tender scene, Robins and Daniels seemed so absorbed in one another I felt I was intruding into a genuinely intimate and deeply private moment that I had no right to see.

In another scene, Wiseman delivered a heart rending expression of grief and regret so raw and evocative it was impossible not to be swept up in her misery. Rawiri in a ‘Ted Talk’ scene seemed jocular initially until he held something in his hands that belonged to his father. In an instant, and only fleetingly, the confident mask was gone and we saw the magnitude of his loss. 

The set used up the entire stage area of the ASB Waterfront Theatre. Into this huge expanse were some computer screens and tables but overall the large space was open and empty. Perhaps this was a metaphor to illustrate how small humanity is compared the issues we face and the power of Big Pharma compared to the individual. Yet, the weight of the cast and the clever use of lighting, movable barriers, and light screens ensured this cavernous area never overwhelmed the people or intimate scenes.

As a footnote to this review, there were humous moments in the script, but I noticed the audience laughing in some intensely challenging scenes which to me seemed incongruous. My theory is that the cast had created such believable and relatable characters that in those times where there was intense aggression the audience couldn’t help laughing in order to mitigate their distress. I could be wrong, but the script itself referenced laughter as an antidote to fear and intimidation. 

Whatever the answer, I have to say that The Effect is a compelling and thought-provoking exploration of the human experience, offering insight into the profound impact of both chemical and emotional influences on our lives which is impeccably staged and performed. 

Photo credit – Andi Crown

Press play to listen to my interview with Sara Wiseman about the play:

THE EFFECT

ASB Waterfront Theatre Dates: Tuesday, April 16 – Saturday, May 11 2024

Duration: 2 hours & 20 minutes, including interval

Tickets and info

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