This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 29 January 2015. It was my first ever piece for the Stage section, and the start of the whole theatre reviewing experience for me. So this article, for all its faults, has a special place in my heart.
The Effect is intense. The play deals with a number of people involved in a clinical trial of mood-altering drugs. A relationship forms between two of the participants, and events spiral out of control as emotions run high, and it becomes harder and harder for the characters to distinguish between their own emotions and those induced by the drug. The play is a crescendo of confusion and fear, culminating in a dénouement as shocking as it is poignant. The first production of Lucy Prebble’s award-winning 2012 play outside the National Theatre, Freya Judd’s ambitious staging will premiere in third week, and will (Judd hopes) start a few important conversations.
The Effect is difficult to summarise, but Judd says that the play is about “The struggle for identity in the modern era, and what love really means when you can medicate your emotions.”
The Effect “deals with some really important issues, and in Oxford, actually, we have a lot of problems with mental health… about 30% of the student body will be in counselling at any one time, and for me, therefore, depression is really important. I wanted to do a play that meant something… the message of the play, talking about antidepressants, de-stigmatising mental health, putting it on stage for people to see, that was really important. For us, it’s important to not just say that as a marketing gimmick, but to actually do something, so we’ve invited people from the counselling service, we’re in association with Mind Your Head, which I think is really good.”
Judd talks about finding the right actors for the lead roles- “Sarah [Mathews] turned up in the audition… she had this real calmness, but she had this very deep emotion, and I thought that was an amazing piece of self-possessed acting. Callum [Lynch] was just really cheeky, really funny, I think he’s really good for his character.”
The Effect is an example of a particular type of story which has caught on in recent years; Judd says that “a lot of modern plays are a bit of science with a love story thrown in. That’s essentially what The Effect is about, keeping the science in, whilst making it intelligible to an audience.”
Judd hopes that audiences will “really engage with the debate on stage. I would love to know what people think at the end; I’d be interested to know what side the audience comes down on.”
Judd and her team look to have created a complex, disturbing and riveting piece of drama, and when it comes to starting debates, it looks set to make quite an impact. You might say that it will have a real effect on its audience.