by Jacob Warn
It is a play that broaches broad and pertinent questions. It is a dramatic presentation of the debates that take place as we increasingly attempt to reconcile a global mental health epidemic with a tendency to extreme, pharmaceutical medicalisation. It asks persistently, what is love? At other times, is asks, what is happiness? What is emotion? What is life?
“The play, title onwards, seems to enjoy so self-consciously roaming the philosophical caverns of contemporary thought”
The effect is, if anything, rhetorical. Answers to these questions are not forthcoming, and the play, title onwards, seems to enjoy so self-consciously roaming the philosophical caverns of contemporary thought – with brevity that borders upon superficiality – that one feels one is watching a middle-class tour de force of every question the gap-year-bereft student could ever possibly want to ask.
The plot is not simple, but if anything it is over-complicated by its longevity – each act running well past the hour. A man and a woman, of markedly different personalities, are brought together during an anti-depressant drugs trial. The prescribed drug, a dopamine stimulant, is taken in higher and higher dosages to the point at which is causes a mad, chemically-induced passion which the patients struggle to discern from ‘love’. Meanwhile, like a mirror held far too close, the amorous and mental history of the two supervising doctors proceeds to grossly reflect and intensify the questions raised by the patients’ own ordeals.
“Like the chimes of a clock, these scenes quarter the play and add much to its sense of progression”
The directing cleverly demarcates the plot, which is at times structurally loose, employing repeated scenes of synchronised choreography every time the dosage is augmented. Like the chimes of a clock, these scenes quarter the play and add much to its sense of progression.
The drama that seeps around these moments, however, sometimes just seems a little inane. The play indulges in ‘scenes of a sexual nature’ (as we are warned on entry) when simply not necessary; and passion, when necessary to the plot, flashes all too fleetingly before our eyes.
There is, even if marked at a lento tempo, a relatively steady sense of progression to this play. The second act enjoys a greater range of dynamics, and each of the four primary actors visibly seems to relish in this, proof of their dramatic skill which is sometimes, sadly, lost in a script that struggles to be credibly convincing.
The Effect is well-acted, well-rehearsed and well-done. But it just needed something extra, or rather something less – whether in size or scope – to pare it down and pack the punch: punch which any rumination on such important and contemporary topics deserves.
The Effect is showing at Keble O’Reilly until the end of the week. Tickets are £7 for students and can be bought through their Facebook page.