Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Effect

Lucy Prebble
Play With Fire in partnership with Oldham Coliseum
Oldham Coliseum
25 September 2018 to 27 September 2018

First seen at the National six years ago, Lucy Prebble’s much-admired and multi-award-winning play about the effect of chemicals on the human brain is here getting its north west premiere in an impressively presented production from Manchester-based company Play With Fire.

It’s apparently a taster of the sort of thing we can expect in the Coliseum’s Studio twhen the company’s new building opens in a couple of years. Bring it on.

The action is set in a private clinic where a four-week trial is taking place on a new kind of anti-depressant. Two paid volunteers – Tristan (Daniel Bradford) an up-front Ulsterman, and Connie (Elaine McNicol), a psychology student - are taking part to discover whether there are any side effects.

They are being closely monitored by psychiatrist Lorna (Karren Winchester), who is in turn being supervised by doctor-about-the-lecture-circuit Toby (Robin Kingsland).

Somewhat unexpectedly, Tristan and Connie start to fall in love. But would they have done so without the chemicals? And isn’t it chemicals anyway that cause us to fall in love in the natural course of events? Is their passion real or just a side effect? Is there a placebo somewhere in the mix? And just exactly how well did Lorna and Toby know each other in those years gone by?

Lots of twists and turns, plenty of serious debate, funny at times, fascinating and finally very moving, the play only lets itself down when the two doctors stand and discuss mostly medical matters for the enlightenment of the audience in a couple of very clunky front stage episodes.

It’s directed with clarity and precision by Jake Murray (good to see him back in Manchester) and has an excellent quartet of actors who really get under the skin of the script.

This is exactly the sort of area of theatrical activity – a highly-praised new play on contemporary subjects, seen probably firstly in London – that far too often never makes it to Manchester these days, but darn well should.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme