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The Effect Review – Love is complicated chemistry.

Kwabena Gyane

5 out of 5 stars

Let’s pose a question: “Can you manufacture love?” Now let’s follow this up with two more: “To what extent can you?” and “Can this love ever become ‘real’?”

These were some of the questions Prebble’s “The Effect” asks, and with a charismatic cast and a solid script, the audience had no choice but to pay attention.

First things first, can love be concocted? Can we find a way to mass produce a feeling like that? There are drugs that induce happiness, sadness, and anger, so what makes love any different?

The Effect finds its setting in a clinic where two volunteers Taylor Russell’s Connie and Paapa Essiedu’s Tristan, are involved in a trial for a new antidepressant. Monitored by Michele Austin’s Dr Lorna James who reports her findings to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith’s Dr Toby Sealey, a connection is formed, and as the dosage increases, it morphs into something more. Could this passion be due to drug intake? Or could this love be an authentic evolution due to their proximity? From the get-go, The Effect wants the audience to ruminate on this dilemma as they watch the play unfold.

Russell and Essiedu’s chemistry is electric, palpable and engrossing; they need to be romantic leads in a film in the near future. Within the first few minutes they interact on stage, they sow the seeds of the upcoming romance with ease. While Tristan is laidback and, in some scenes, almost insouciant, Connie is presented as his emotional opposite, being edgy and far more rigid. This juxtaposition allows their blossoming relationship to take an intriguing route; as a viewer you see these two question each other and learn, allowing you to wonder if in another life, perhaps without the inclusion of a drug trial, could these two fall in love?

As the play progresses, the second question becomes to what extent can you engineer love? The transition from like to lust to love in a short span of time should be jarring and it would be cliché if not for the context it exists in and the balance Russell and Essiedu bring to their performance as lovers.

The energy these two actors give their characters elevate the emotions felt, allowing the drastic changes and discoveries the audience witnesses and uncovers more shocking and worthwhile.

While Russell and Essiedu are exceptional in their roles, Austin and Holdbrook-Smith hold their own and are true masters of their own characters, shining particularly during their duologues. The first question of manufactured love sees them on opposite sides of the debate, can one really make a ‘Viagra for the heart’, everything being felt by the two subjects must be due to their novel circumstances, right? In the conversations they have and one specific interaction between Connie and Lorna, the audience gets glimpses of the reason behind their tension and both Austin and Holdbrook-Smith convey this beautifully with their own phenomenal chemistry. When these characters speak, whether externally to one another or internally, there is a demand that the audience listens to each single syllable, that’s the level of authority these two seasoned actors have with their words.

Love and its nature are at the centre of the play and with it comes the theme of ethics; should love or something akin to it ever become a product and what would be its harmful effects? Mental health also plays a role as can love supposedly created with drugs ever transcend and become ‘real’ and what is the rationality behind that? Prebble gives us her answers as the play moves towards its end, acted with great finesse by all four actors and directed with care by Jamie Lloyd.

The Effect ends as it begins, with the audience asking these three key questions as even if Prebble has offered her own take on the idea of love, it is after all one layer of an extremely multifaceted topic, highlighting the cerebral and captivating nature of the play.

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