The Effect is Lucy Prebble’s much-lauded neurological romance presented for the first time on an Irish stage by the theatre company Rough Magic. The Effect itself could be anything. The effect of love? The effect of depression? The effect of power? In this beautifully conceived drug trial it’s impossible to tell.
Connie is a young psychiatry student who has agreed to participate in a drug trial. She is simultaneously intrigued and terrified by the prospect. A careful woman, following her own rigid moral code and hinting at a relationship with a stuffy older man, she seems intent on her own conclusions. Tristan, her partner on the trial, is more free-wheeling and adventurous. Together, as scenes from Blade Runner flash ominously on screens behind them, they began a tender and forbidden courtship. Not since Romeo and Juliet has a flirtation been more ill-advised. It has all the hallmarks of passionate love but, as their brains are being rewired by the drugs, how can they trust their feelings? Who’s been giving the drug and who’s been giving the placebo? Why does it all feel dangerously beyond their control? Meanwhile, they are being monitored by two doctors who have a romantic history of their own.
Siobhan Cullen and Donal Gallery, as both Connie and Tristan respectively, deliver moving performances as their relationship progresses from halting dalliance to strong, stable union capable of withstanding huge obstacles. The two leads possess genuine chemistry and balance the darkness with convincing moments of levity. Ronan Leahy exudes arrogance as an egotistical doctor with an occasional softer side, but it’s Ali White who truly impresses as a caring doctor undermined by her own crippling depression. In one devastating scene, she details how her own brain attacks and destroys her daily. It’s just one in a series of pitch-perfect moments directed expertly by Ronan Phelan. The Effect is that rare treat: a play that appeals both to the head and the heart.