I find it hard to judge the point of morality or message in The Effect, by Lucy Prebble, about a psychogenic drug testing program, taking
place in an unspecified clinic, examining the effects of a new drug
on—well, on mental
well-being. There’s the testing doctor, Lorna (Kati Brazda) who has her own history with depression, some of
that perhaps tied up with her boss, Toby (Steve Key), all of which gets exacerbated by the trials
conducted on two young adults, Connie and Tristan (Suzanna Flood and Carter Hudson), one of whom may be on a placebo, who shouldn’t be
getting involved with each other, yet, of course, do.
It’s a well-worn dramatic
trope to have a psychiatrist treat a patient whose outer pathology echoes his
or her own inner demons (Equus by Peter Shaffer is arguably the
best such example and almost certainly the most famous, if not the progenitor)
and of course that’s a convenient way to provide an underlying dramatic thread;
but again, it totally bollixes the purpose of the play, which would seem, on some level, to be an indictment of Big Drugs, since there’s data to suggest that
psychotropic medicines often cause more harm than good, with test results only
reliable in post-marketing trials, since so much pre-release data is fudged or
hidden from general access. But that's not the impression left.
Instead, The Effect lands as a very well directed, very well-acted bit of propaganda that is every bit as deceptive as the clinical trial it dramatizes. Whether it’s effective drama on its own terms…that rather depends upon your alchemical response to the formula. My response? It ain’t dull, but for all the emotional angst expressed, I found it a cool affair, where one expects agit-prop theatre to stir up…well, something.
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