Review – The Effect – Cottlesloe Theatre, The National Theatre


It seems presumptuous, somehow, to write a review of a play so quickly that the salt of your tears is still crackling on your face. But I wanted to get my thoughts on Lucy Prebble’s new show down while the ache is still fresh. I saw it on a day when I was extraordinarily susceptible to the emotions of love and abandonment; it took the raw emotions I provided, stuck its fist in my psyche, and pulled out my guts.

What is love, really; what is depression: what makes any of us think we are happy? Is it just really chemicals? Does life, does the way we treat each other have anything to do with it? Are we safe to say,”I’m not responsible, you own your own feelings,” or do we say,”This is all just chemicals nothing is real” so we can discount our hearts breaking inside us?

These questions come up in the context of a clinical trial involving two college kids who may or may not be getting placebos …or real drugs possibly simulating love. Or is what they’re feeling real? As they laugh and tell each other the stupid stories that make up the banal reality of whom each of us is, you, the audience member, can’t tell which is real and which is fake anymore. It’s really love. It’s just a placebo. But the emotions are strong, ridiculous, authentic, like every crush you’ve ever had, like every boy who was just too perfect and left you.

And what are we all in the end but sad depressed people trying to medicate ourselves through the harsh winter of reality. Are we lying to ourselves and just pathetic? Is it preferable take drugs to protect ourselves from the psychological damage of being honest about our ability to affect outcomes? Is it even reasonable to hope that maybe, somewhere, there is one human enough that can love us, horribly flawed though we are?

As the show ended I cried openly, trying to restrain myself from sobbing, hoping the actors could see me trying to clap through it all. I love plays that explore what it means to be in the now, in a world of cell phones and drug trials and tap dancing in mental asylums; but even more I love a play that explores what it means to be human, and to live and love and try to be ethical in the crazy world of conflicting emotions and priorities that is life with other people .

(This review is for a preview seen on Thursday, November 7th or so. It was awesome. Book now.)

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4 Responses to “Review – The Effect – Cottlesloe Theatre, The National Theatre”

  1. Sarah Hymas Says:

    Wow, wow wow. Missed out on tickets last time round for this but def want to get tickets soon. Sounds Amazing. Thanks for your review.

  2. Nadia Demetriou Ladas Says:

    Is it indecent or foolish to book tickets based on the first line of a review? Well I did, and thank you as I got the last tickets remaining in the pit for last night’s preview! It was as moving as you described, but I did find the whole structure quite clinical and mathematical. The highlight of course was seeing the slightly neurotic girl paired off with the ultimate in happy go lucky literally live for the moment characters, and the heartbreak of seeing the doctor who didn’t believe in medication succumb to it. Thought provoking, and great to see full male nudity for a change.

  3. Andrew Farish Says:

    I am glad the contributors above got so much out this show. I do not feel the same. There was lots to enjoy about the production, not least the fantastic performances and semi-immersive set design. And the piece successfully explored one or two compelling mental health issues. The pace of the script, however, was uneven – it didn’t seem to know whether to offer us either some kind of a “will they, won’t they?” love story, or a more intellectual discussion of said issues. If it wanted to combine the two, it fell short.

    In addition, I couldn’t help being intermittently distracted by the implausibility of Piper’s character being the only solo woman participating in the trial, but O’Neill’s had to share a dorm with numerous men – how come the two of them managed to share so much time together without being disturbed by any of these apparently smelly beasts? Why were there no other women? It didn’t ring true. On top of all that, Goodman-Hill’s character was woefully underwritten compared to the other three.
    I can’t fault the acting though, which, again was pretty special – there were some scenes that just burned up the stage. I just felt that the piece as a whole did not add up to the sum of its parts.

  4. Review – The Last Yankee – The Print Room | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] mental illness stretching from Long Day’s Journey into Night right up to last year’s The Effect, The Last Yankee had nearly no sense of datedness to it thirty years later. Mental illness is still […]

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