The Effect

Tue 24th – Sat 28th November 2015

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 23:25 on 24th Nov 2015

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The Effect was a harrowing and completely convincing production which capitalised brilliantly on the intense, almost claustrophobic space of the Corpus Playhouse. Staged without an interval, this play grabbed the audience by the throat and didn't let go until the thought-provoking close. The response was rapturous, and for much of the last half-hour, any silences left by the show were punctuated by the soft sniffles of affected audience members.

In the Playroom, audience and stage are pressed together, leaving almost no room for the sort of subterfuge you can get away with in a more traditional theatre. And rather than being hamstrung by this, The Effect capitalised on it. The Spartan staging perfectly depicted the clinical settings of the play, with movements of chairs and stretcher-like tables changing the scene. The potential to be overly simplistic was resisted too - there was enough incidental detail in the design to make the setting feel (at times uncomfortably) real.

The actors also made the most of the unusual space, delivering remarkably natural performances filled with details and "small acting" - a crinkle of the eyebrow, a small twitch of the mouth, a slight tremor of the hand, details which could be lost in a larger room, were used to great effect.

All four cast members were brilliant. Tom Hilton was charismatic and slightly slimy as the suave doctor Toby, and his sales-pitch monologue was one of the best moments of the play. He staged a kind of performance-within-the-performance, strutting about, addressing the audience directly, holding eye contact a little too long: the perfect conference presentation. Avigail Tlalim was charmingly natural as Connie, the female romantic lead, catching attention from her first moments onstage. Her comic timing during the early part of the play was great, but her fear and frustration as things developed was equally good.

The two standout performances however came from Os Leanse as the attractive but loose-cannon-y Tristan, and Bethan Davidson as the complex psychiatrist Lorna. Leanse capitalised on every facial expression, and every gesture, giving a detailed performance which also wasn't afraid to go big when necessary (you'll be fine if you sit in the front row, I promise). Davidson handled both aspects of her role wonderfully, starting the piece every inch the cool and composed medical professional, but also charting her character's development (or decay) beautifully. Her brain monologue, forming a kind of matching set with Tom Hilton's, was mesmerising, and provoked the occasional audible sob.

The Effect is a fabulous production of an astonishing play, delivering tender romance, sharp comedy, and blistering tragedy, and remaining believable in even its most dramatic moments. The whole audience seemed to let out a held breath during the silence after the finish. Do not miss it.

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Cameron Wallis

at 09:14 on 25th Nov 2015

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'The Effect' was an extremely powerful production which took the Corpus Playroom's captive audience on a dizzying, emotional rollercoaster. Kudos to the actors for some truly beautiful performances, conveying the questions Lucy Prebble wanted to ask audiences in her challenging play about drug-tests, depression and the meaning of love.

Generally the play was very well-directed by Hannah Calascione, with only a few decisions a little questionable. The usage of film in the play was a bit overdone, certain clips reappearing several times – like each time the trialists drank more of the drug. Others seemed out-of-place, too long and only used because the actors were preparing for the next scene - like the feature of Usain Bolt in one of the sequences. Another slight directing misdemeanour was the montage of love scenes between Tristan and Connie, which felt a bit unsettled and rushed. However, this is nit-picking in a play that was otherwise beautifully and tastefully directed.

Although the start was a little shaky, 'The Effect' quickly gained its footing and accelerated into a rapid pace. Weaving their way through a plot teeming with dark turns and unexpected revelations, all of the actors were clearly extremely talented, and enabled the audience to follow their characters' developments.

Os Leanse played Tristan, a depressive young man on a 'gap-life', and did his part justice. Beginning the play a seemingly self-assured and rather slippery figure, Tristan was skilfully shaped by Leanse into an anxious, obsessive monster. Yet, despite Tristan's coarseness and his dark, neurotic behaviour, Leanse kept us sympathising – and often laughing - with him through the climax, right to the play's uplifting, yet simultaneously tragic, ending. An overall sterling performance from Leanse, whose discriminating and minimal use of shouting made it all the more expressive and frightening when he did. Although he sometimes had a tendency to clench his hands an excessive amount, his performance was extremely evocative and the heart-wrenching conclusion of the play had much of the audience blubbering.

Avigail Tlalim played Connie, the other character volunteering in the trial, and also put in a very impressive performance. Wielding astonishing power over the audience's emotions by portraying a woman torn between romantic and chemical concepts of love, Tlalim, in conjunction with Leanse, could make us laugh or cry with remarkable dexterity.

Although Connie and Tristan were both played excellently, because they were evidently mere guinea-pigs in an experiment, they seemed in some way 'less real' than the fascinating, parallel couple facilitating the experiment: Lorna and Toby.

These two intriguing characters were developed and performed exceptionally well by Bethan Davidson and Tom Hilton. In particular, both of their monologues – about the brain - were phenomenally well-delivered and truly mesmerising. Like Connie and Tristan, the two characters were intricately linked with one another in a way that made the play's ending all the more powerful and provocative. Lorna's own depression was wonderfully acted by Davidson, but my favourite element of the show was Hilton’s manifestation of Toby's guilt about ending his old relationship with Lorna. Hilton understood the subtleties of his character, how deeply Toby's motivations and decisions were influenced by his past, and created the play’s most interesting character.

Ultimately asking questions about human experimentation, the placebo effect, psychological make-up, causes and possible treatments for depression, and the motivations of humankind, 'The Effect' had a profoundly effect upon the audience! Making us laugh, making us cry, and (perhaps most importantly of all) making us think, The Effect is a play that will stick with you and which deserves to be seen.

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