|*Thank you to The Other Room for tickets to the show.|
Last night my theatre buddy and I headed to Porter’s to catch their latest performance in The Other Room. I hadn’t (as usual) read anything about the performance, but just from the stage, set and television screens alone, I felt a sense of what was to come.
The Effect by Lucy Pebble is a story about a pharmaceutical drug trial that goes horribly wrong. With four characters from different backgrounds, pursuing different things, The Effect takes a strong look at mental health and the idea that drugs are somehow the only answer.
First of all, I’m going to be completely honest and say, having lived with my own anxiety for the past few decades, The Effect really hit me hard. I would advise anyone with a passion/emotional connection to anxiety/depression (or any other mental health issue) to consider this, and to go into the play fully armed. The Effect does not shy away from talking honestly about mental health, and it focuses hard on fixing these ‘problems’ with two options; drugs or no drugs.
The set does what it needs to do, with hospital beds, a little medical trolley and television screens offering information about the patients as the performance goes along. The costumes are exactly what’s needed for this kind of performance, and the lighting and sound was effective during each scene, helping the audience move with the characters as the story unfolded.
The cast is made up of Hussina Raja as Connie, Neal Mcwilliams as Tristan, Nicola Reynolds as Dr James and Jams Thomas as Toby. They are all confident and polished performers, and I was pretty hooked from start to finish.
Dr James probably stood out the most to me, mostly because I could appreciate everything she was saying when discussing her depression with Toby. The dialogue was really well written and rehearsed, and there were times when I felt incredibly emotional as Reynolds performed on stage. She captivated me with her personality and struggles, and although I have anxiety and she has depression, they’re very married in their behaviour within the mind. When she described her depression as a potential gift, I really understood what she was saying, why she felt so strongly about it being a part of her. She really resonated with me as a person, and I agreed with everything she said.
In contrast, Toby is keen to push drugs onto patients to prevent suicide, but I always struggle with this concept. I’ve never taken medication, and I don’t think anxiety is a disease. I do think society heavily contributes to mental health, and rather than taking medication, coping strategies, counselling and acceptance can do far greater things than pills. The performance uses clever wit and humour to contrast the darker moments, and there were quite a few occasions that caused the audience to laugh along with the different one-liners and jokes.
Tristan was another favourite character; completely nuts and very hyper, he slowly descends into chaos as the experiment continues on. I adored Mcwilliams in this role; he had a lot of energy, excellent comedy timing and performed with immense focus and passion. His character felt quite childlike (in a good way!), with the need to live life and explore, something we can all relate to, right? He falls in love with Connie, and Connie is almost very opposite to him; sensible and a bit afraid of things, she was easy to relate to also. I think Raja’s performance was really lovely, and her fragility was a beautiful thing to see in contrast to all the anger, depression and angst.
Their relationship is interesting and also focuses on the changes medication can make to a person. Can they make you really fall in love? Both characters explore how they feel about the medication and its effect on them both, whether good, bad or downright dangerous.
The ending of the performance left me a little… stumped. I felt as though the end signified the only answer = drugs, but the longer I mull it over, the more I think I’m not quite sure. After chatting to Warren about it, he suggested the play could be pointing at our state, how medicine is really the only thing on offer. With counselling session waiting lists, limited six week appointments and a lack of general ‘care’ within the system, this might just be what the ending was referring to.
For me, on a personal level, I would have liked to have seen a more positive, less medicalised outcome. But, once again, that’s not normally a reality at all. Drugs are often offered on a plate to people, yet time and patience don’t exist in this medicalised world anymore. I feel so sad that this is the state of the world, yet The Effect is focusing in on this drug fuelled obsession and tackling it head on, leaving the audience with the question, ‘Is medication ever the answer?’.
I might be in the minority, but I genuinely think it is not the answer at all. It’s a mask, a guise, a hollowing out of a person’s soul. I think if we changed the way we treat each other, the way we behave, the way we treat the world, if we were more open about mental health, then mental health would surely improve. We need to stop being scared of talking about depression or anxiety, we need to face it head on, together…
The Effect has certainly left me with a lot to think about, but it’s also made me very aware of how important it is I talk about my own mental health. If ever any of you need someone to talk to, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Have you seen The Effect? What did you think?
The Effect is running until 12th May, let me know if you get tickets and what you think of the performance 🙂