Review: The Effect, National Theatre, starring Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell - oozes with chemistry
The first production of The Effect had its premiere in 2012, so it is a departure for director Jamie Lloyd who more typically gives older material such as The Seagull and Cyrano de Bergerac a fresh contemporary feel. (Does this mark a new chapter?)
Lucy Prebble's play is set around the clinical trial for a new anti-depressant drug. Connie (Taylor Russell) and Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) are taking part to earn some money - Connie is a student, and Tristan wants to travel.
Dr Toby Sealy (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) is running the trial and has brought in depression-sufferer Dr Lorna James (Michelle Austin) to help.
An attraction quickly forms between Connie and Tristan but are their feelings a side effect of the drugs they are taking? Is love simply chemical or something to which the cause can not be clearly attributed?
Similar questions about chemical responses are raised about depression and the drugs used to treat it. James, ironically given the trial she is working on, doesn't believe it is something solved by medicine.
Despite warnings, Connie and Tristan's blossoming romance threatens the integrity of the trial, and the trial causes friction in the relationship between Sealy and James.
While the original production had a set to resemble an upmarket clinic (some of the audience sat on sofas), for this, Jamie Lloyd has stripped things back with two non-descript chairs, a white bucket and a stage which lights up in sections as the only embellishments to the performance space.
Connie and Tristan both wear joggers and hoodies, and you'd mistake them for prisoners if they weren't white, a colour which is both clinical and slightly decadent in clothing. The stage lights up in black and white blocked sections, which is at times clinical and at others intimate as the light forces focus into small areas.
Where Lloyd's production of The Seagull was very still, here, Connie and Tristan are bags of bored energy. Russell and Essiedu's performances are fun, flirtatious, charming and compelling to watch, with a natural chemistry. Their verbal tennis has pitch-perfect timing delivering a good smattering of laughs.
In allowing the performances to fill the almost entirely blank space, Lloyd helps to emphasise the complexity of humans and the challenge that presents for scientists. A point that is reinforced by the erratic but very human behaviour of the trial participants and those running it.
I very much enjoyed the original production, but I think Lloyd and his cast have elevated the story even further. It oozes with chemistry.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
The Effect, National Theatre
Written by Lucy Prebble
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Starring: Paapa Essiedu, Taylor Russell, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Michelle Austin
Running time: One hour and 40 minutes without an interval.
Booking until 7 October; for more details and to buy tickets, visit the National Theatre website.
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