A disappointing script is given respectful treatment by Firebrand
Lucy Prebble's script is torn between two intentions: The Effect attempts to consider the nature of love – is it just a chemical reaction? – and protest the unscrupulous behaviour of the pharmaceutical-industrial complex. Ultimately, it sheds little light on either theme, dissolving into a series of shouting matches that are a substitute for debate and character development.
While theatre does not need to be entirely accurate in depicting contemporary society (artistic licence allows for some leeway) the representation of a clinical trial for a new mood-enhancing drug suggests Prebble failed to research the subject except in the broadest terms. Add in four stereotypes – tyrannical male doctor, the depressed psychiatrist, the conformist female student and the romantic, neurotic male – and The Effect becomes a tedious rehash of received ideas about desire, gender-relations and the power of pharmacists over doctors.
The cast do their best with the weak script, despite the occasional slip into melodrama, and Richard Baron directs with a respectful manner, allowing the play plenty of space to reveal its inadequacies. An embarrassing sex scene at the end of the first act suggests Prebble hasn't done much research into that, either, while the token flashback at the start of act two adds nothing to the plot or themes that hasn't been covered already. Ideas come and go (once a placebo is mentioned, the next three scenes are all about the placebo effect), and nothing is resolved except in a trite sentimental finale that suggests love, whatever it is, triumphs over amnesia, bad health care and personal ambition.
Firebrand are establishing themselves as a company willing to rediscover scripts and produce them with respect to the author's intentions. Previous works – Iron, White Rose – had the advantage of excellent writing. Sadly, this approach merely exposes The Effect's incoherence.