REVIEW: The Effect

Hannah Calascione’s show made Jonathan Ben-Shaul laugh, cry and left him completely breathless and wanting more.

ADC Cambridge Comedy Corpus Playroom Drama student theatre the effect Theatre

The Effect was the best show I’ve seen in Cambridge and is among one of the best shows I’ve seen on a student stage.

Lucy Prebble’s devastatingly powerful script was held together by honest, nuanced performances from the cast and unparrelled attention to detail and flair from the production team. It is really tough to put down in words how amazing this show was.

The Effect presents us with two narratives; the story of two adolescents on a drug trial for an anti-depressant and the story of the two psychiatrists who monitor their progress. The two adolescents, Connie and Tristan soon fall in love with one another and are forced to try and understand whether what they feel is real or not, while Toby and Lorna debate the efficacy and the morality of the trial. A deeply scientific text, the play is predicated on the notion that we are the chemicals that compose us and tries to reconcile this idea with our complexity of feeling. It is built on different debates woven together: real vs fake, placebo vs active agent, capitalism vs morality, love vs hate.

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Bethan Davidson as Lorna and Avigail Tlalim as Connie

For such a serious subject matter I was surprised at how funny the production was. The quick witted dialogues between Bethan Davidson’s Lorna, a practising psychiatrist and Avigail Tlalim’s Connie, a psychology student, were wonderfully competitive. Os Leanse’s Tristan had a unique hilarity about him in his intensity and his awkwardness. However, their performances where not purely comedic, as the play progressed the subject matter bled through as it hurtled towards its tragic conclusion. The performances on the surface seemed simplistic but as the play progressed, certain intricate expressions and gestures betrayed complex interiors. Leanse’s public face of laddish confidence, in certain beautifully constructed scenes, betrayed flickers of humanity.

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Avigail Tlalim as Connie and Os Leanse as Tristan

Similarly Avigail’s emotional journey was wonderfully expressed; she effortlessly brought out laughs and brought out tears in a wonderfully unapologetic performance. Davidson’s performance was incredibly nuanced, as Lorna’s personal and professional life clashed brilliantly and devastatingly onstage she kept the audience on their toes, constantly making them want to know more. Her haunting stare into the audience at the close of the production remains with me even now, she was simply sublime.  Considering that it was Leanse’s and Tom Hilton’s first performance they approached their roles with a maturity, complexity and confidence that I cannot imagine approaching such difficult roles.

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Bethan Davidson as Lorna and Tom Hilton as Toby

Entering the Corpus Playroom you are confronted with stark white walls, with two hospital beds, a few chairs and an array of medical equipment on two tables. As the play starts the white walls are projected upon and various animations, edited and arranged by Pauline Blanchet, depicting chemicals coursing through the veins of cartoon human bodies. The props in this production are immaculate, I was amazed at the accuracy and the attention to detail employed: everything from Lorna’s lab coat accessories to the marvellous looking ‘telemetry box’. Chloe Slattery’s excellent stage design reminded me of the importance of these aspects of a production.

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Bethan Davidson as Lorna and Avigail Tlalim as Connie

All these tiny detail came together to fully and immediately immerse the audience into the performance, I could practically smell hospital corridors. Before I even knew that Michael Davin was doing the sound design for this performance I was struck by the varied and intricate use of music which perfectly complimented the action. All together, the production team successfully created a very distinct aesthetic for the show which immersed, attracted and entranced.There were moments in this show where I was so enrapt in the performance I completely forgot that I was reviewing it.

Theatre at its best makes you forget that you are watching people act and this show certainly achieved that – as the play ended I felt desperately sad to have to let go of these wonderful characters and the world they inhabited.

5/5 stars