Photo: Marc Brenner

We had high hopes for The Effect, and thankfully this show more than lived up to expectations. Written by Lucy Prebble, one of the writers of hit TV series Succession, and directed by Olivier-winner Jamie Lloyd, it’s a brilliant, captivating observation of the world we inhabit, full of moral dilemmas. At its centre is the story of two young people, Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) and Connie (Taylor Russell), who have volunteered to take part in a new drugs trial.

They live in a world which has woken up to the importance of mental health – with an awareness that the way diseases are treated is not really fit for purpose. We meet Lorna (Michele Austin), the doctor running the drugs trial in a bid to find a new, better way to manage depression; and Toby (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith), the creator of the drug being tested. Over the course of the trial, Tristan and Connie start to develop feelings for each other – but is this actually love, or a side effect of the medication they’re on?

It’s genuinely fascinating, compelling stuff. The acting is superb, and the interactions of the two pairings – the passion between Tristan and Connie, the acerbic exchanges between the two doctors – feel wonderfully authentic. In what could be an incredibly serious story there’s a surprising amount of humour: this is partially due to Lucy Prebble’s text, overflowing with wry, intelligent, witty remarks; and partially due to the expert timing and delivery of our quartet of actors.

This 100-minute (no interval) show moves along at a blistering pace thanks to Jamie Lloyd’s expert direction. It’s a sparse, stark, monochrome set on this narrow traverse stage, with almost every space and event created via changes of lighting; the only prop utilised is a brain in a bucket. The sound design is excellent, too, with a minimalist score which is surprisingly effective at upping the tension at key moments.

The Effect really is theatre at its finest: it feels like it has something important to say, and it does so in a nuanced and thought-provoking way. It all looks and sounds fantastic and the acting is first-rate. Well worth a visit – we loved it.

GAY TIMES gives The Effect – 5/5

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