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The Effect

Henry Pettigrew and Ophelia Lovibond in The Effect. Photo: Johan Persson Henry Pettigrew and Ophelia Lovibond in The Effect. Photo: Johan Persson

Lucy Prebble’s play is a thought experiment. It invites its audience to consider the nature of selfhood – are we our biology, our memories, our neurotransmitters?

Tristan and Connie are volunteers on a drug trial for a new kind of anti-depressant, which they are made to take in increasingly high doses while being monitored for side effects – adverse or otherwise. Sealed up together in a clinic, they’re drawn to one another, and appear to fall deeply and swiftly in love; the play’s big question is how much of what they feel for one another is natural attraction, how much of it is altered brain chemistry, and whether it even matters.

Under Daniel Evans, the Crucible has produced a string of regional premieres of recent hits and his smart in-the-round production of Prebble’s play, which was first staged at the National in the post-Enron glare of 2012, makes the case for this approach. While the play has its flaws – it seems implausible that the trial would really be allowed to continue given how many of its rules Tristan and Connie break – it’s also an intelligent and questioning piece of writing.

It helps that, in a play about chemistry, the attraction between Ophelia Lovibond and Henry Pettigrew feels unforced. Their performances are both spot on; he’s a bit of a waster but charming with it and she’s nervy but appealing. Their final scenes together are incredibly sad and tender. Priyanga Burford gives a similarly emotionally complex performance as the doctor in charge of the trial who is herself slowly sinking into depression.

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An intelligent, intimate and strongly performed production of Lucy Prebble’s questioning play