28
Jun
14

The Effect

 

The Effect

QTC & STC

The GreenHouse Bille Brown Studio

June 7 – July 5 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

Depression and anxiety are common conditions.

 

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

 

On average, 1 in 6 people – 1 in 5 women and 1 in 8 men – will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

 

Anxiety is the most common mental condition in Australia. On average, 1 in 4 people – 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men – will experience anxiety.

 

Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the year following birth. Almost 1 in 10 women experience antenatal depression, and 1 in 7 in the postnatal period. Anxiety is likely to be as, or more, common.

 

At least six Australians take their own lives every day.

 

Source: beyondblue.org.au

 

theeffect_qtc

 

 

 

Dee and I have joked about our chemical imbalance; as if it’s a collective thing from which women-who-do-too-much suffer (of course it’s not just the women). When I remember the stats and think of everybody I know I have to wonder…which of us are NOT depressed!?

 

 

Act 1 of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect is upbeat, fun and funny. It doesn’t take long to establish the four characters that tell an amusing and then very moving tale about a highly controversial couple of subjects. Despite everybody being a little too sharply drawn to begin with, it takes just ten minutes for the production to settle and for the characters and their relationships to develop into warm and interesting enough stories. And I love getting not-quite-the-full-story. There is much to establish in the first act – the participants of a clinical drug trial, the trial itself, the clinicians, and the premise – can happiness (and depression) be attributed to an altered chemical state in the brain?

 

By the end of the production there are almost two plays at work, which seems to be a sign (or symptom) of new work. I wish I’d written enough to tell you that from personal experience, but it’s only through seeing the work of other new playwrights that I can safely say we’ve seen before, two tales in one.

 

Act 2 takes a (not entirely unexpectedly intense) turn, challenging us to consider more seriously our choices and the ensuing consequences. It balances dangerously between conversational and preachy tone, with an extended scene between the medical professionals almost giving us too much of the debate, and repetitively so. I notice myself beginning to turn off, tune out and think, “So when is the pedophile thing going to come up? (This is not my spoiler. It’s within a quote in Prebbles’s bio. This marks the first time ever I wish I hadn’t read the program notes before seeing the play). The debate itself is an oldie but a goodie: do we medicate for depression or not? If not, why not? Can we heal ourselves of the epidemic sadness sweeping the world? You could get depressed just thinking about it! Or you could come up with, let’s say, a lucrative online project and collaborate with a popular stationary line. Yes, of course I have the books!

 

 

The space is glossy; so glossy it’s highly reflective and we see ourselves in the sterile black walls. White floors are harsh, cold, and blue shiny chairs offer a false sense of security and a superficial level of calm around the edges. Cruel fluro light is emitted from above and a light box dance floor features below. I’d love to put it into my kitchen (we’ve always danced in the kitchen). But more on lighting later.

 

Eugene Gilfedder, in one of his strongest roles to date, gets the balance just right. He’s the once flirtatious, now serious, always ambitious professional medic turned motivational speaker, Toby (a phone call away from a TED Talk!), and he makes a good case for the sensitive, older, Noah style long-term love interest. If you ever picked up the sequel to The Notebook (no, it’s not a film; you’ll have to read the book), it’s to that Noah I refer, the Noah who quietly, persistently and courageously conspires to reignite his wife’s love for him after many years of a “happy” marriage.

 

texts_theeffect

 

Toby’s foil is Dr James (Angie Milliken), who has endured childhood abuse and feels as if her old flame has done her a rather ironic favour by putting her in charge of the clinical trial of a new super anti-depressant. Her story, I think, is the second tale told and could be more sensitively treated under its own title.

 

Anna McGahan (always gorgeous to see her on stage) and Mark Leonard Winter (bringing gorgeous, lively new energy to this stage) are the unlikely punters who enter into an agreement with the imagined pharmaceutical company Raushen to trial for four weeks, a so-called happiness drug. Winter’s character, Tristan, has done this before – the money the drug companies pay him per trial allows him to travel the world – but for McGahan’s character, Connie, this is the first time, perhaps as some sort of escape or respite. But who is actually on the drug and who is given a placebo or some other concoction? How do we know if the emotions are real or merely the side effects of the drug? And if everybody is happy, in love, does it even matter?

 

What price happiness?

 

The relationship between Connie and Tristan comes across as a warm, immediate and very genuine thing, despite its corny start in the waiting room of the facility they share for the duration of the trial. It’s actually every girl’s worst waiting room nightmare, trapped in a small public space with a random trying to crack onto her. But love – or the effect of the drug – brings them together and we enjoy some lovely early dialogue to establish the attraction and later, a choreographed sex scene that depends as much on its lighting states as its posturing.

 

connieandtristan_theeffect

 

These two handle it well and the scene becomes very cinematic, beautifully so, but it’s still so strange to watch even a slightly dressed sex scene, isn’t it!? I know, I know, what do you do? It kinda’ works!

 

Much of the effect of the drama can be attributed to Sarah Goodes’ astute direction and the collaboration with lighting designer, Ben Hughes, who creates with Designer Renee Mulder, a dream-like version of a hospital nightclub. It exists somewhere between a mental asylum and a sci-fi galaxy government headquarters, ideal in this studio space, especially after relaxing pre-show in the gorgeous, cosy new library area of The GreenHouse. Guy Webster’s soundscape keeps us in a perpetual state of nothingness, or as I like to think, openness, and I love it and loathe it, like Camille’s album. It’s fascinating that not everybody hears it – Dee didn’t until I mentioned it – it’s that inner ear vibration that exists behind everything else and if it’s the wrong pitch (for you) it might override everything else and become seriously irritating. There are times when I blame it for the onset of a migraine, but not this time.

 

As much as I love the fun and vibe (and Veuve) of opening nights, I don’t mind seeing a production a week or so into its run, when all the elements have settled and the actors are well and truly back into storytelling mode, rather than, “Aargh! It’s opening night!” mode. You have until July 5 to catch The Effect before it heads to Sydney and you should, not just for the challenging conversation it will spark during the days following but also, for the private thoughts conjured as you catch yourself in the mirror it holds up to each and every one of us.

 

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