The Effect @ The Pegg Studio Theatre

Past readers may have seen that I enjoy the crossover of art and science. In particular from a post written last year: Neuroscience + Art. This is the first play I’ve seen since moving to Bristol and I would have missed it completely if it wasn’t for spotting a plug on twitter and having a free Friday night. With the tag line ‘Love is double blind‘*, I thought I’d have to give it ago.

The Bristol Spotlights ran ‘The Effect‘ between the 4th-6th February at the new Pegg Studio Theatre in the UBU Richmond building.


Administered with my patient number ready for the trial to start

The screenplay written by Lucy Prebble and originally produced by Headlong and the National Theatre and performed at Cottesloe Theatre in 2012/13. With inspiration drawn from the notorious Northwick Park drug trial disaster, this provides a hint to the backdrop and intensity of the play unfolding.

A 4 person cast deliver the story of trial designers and participants. We meet Lorna, a supervising physician and her boss Toby, running the trail on behalf of a drug company. It quickly becomes apparent that they share a romantic past and are now at very different points in there lives.

Connie and Tristan, the guinea pigs, have different outlooks on life but as the first doses are administered they begin to fall for each other. Is this really love? Is it just a chemically induced high? Does it matter? The characters explore these questions and become increasingly frustrated with trial rules, the drugs and each other.

The two physicians debate the overall aim of the trial, a new antidepressant. In monologues they each present their own thoughts on depression and how to deal with it. Toby rationalises depression as a disease which can be ‘cured’ with the correct compound. Lorna takes solace in the belief that depressed people see the world in a more accurate way and exhibits her long-term struggle with depression, which she refuses to medicate.


The staging was minimal but effective, two trolleys were manoeuvred in each scene, often mirroring each other adding to the symmetry of the storytelling. The use of projections and audio, including a beating heart (pictured above) and MRI images, made the overall experience immersive. Admittedly I’m a bit of a theatre novice but I could not fault the cast’s performance across both the heavier and more comedic scenes.

Coming from a science point of view, this trial was not double blind! A few other parts of the ‘trial’ were pretty unbelievable but it was great to see a nice rubber model of a brain (and once again enjoy that I’ve held the real deal!). Personally there themes are very topical and the play struck a real cord, leaving me with a lot to ponder on the walk home.

So thanks Bristol Spotlights and hopefully they’ll be more creative science + art crossovers in the near future…!

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4 Responses to The Effect @ The Pegg Studio Theatre

  1. Rebecca says:

    Interesting post – sounds like a really intriguing play! So glad to have stumbled upon such a fantastic neuro blog (especially such a like-minded one that also appreciates the neuro/art crossover!) …from one blogger to another, good ones seem to be few and far between.
    Really love your other posts too – fascinating stuff about what it’s like working in a brain bank (I’m a neuroscience undergrad and have been getting stuck into neuroanatomy labs this year, so totally relate with the whole weirdness of holding a what once made a person in your two hands…no incognito public-transport brain trips for me, though!)
    Your posts on your PhD experience are so helpful too…at least from my point of view as an undergrad who wants to go into neuro research but has no clue how to actually get there!
    I look forward to reading more 🙂

  2. NeuroRach says:

    I think we both posted comments on each others blogs at the same time!
    Thank you so much, it’s great to find another person excited by neuro-art 😀
    I’ve been reading through your posts too and I particularly enjoy the history of science posts, something I love reading about but haven’t written about at all myself. I had no idea that I would end up enjoying research or even neuroscience as an undergraduate, so it’s great to see you’ve already written and explored so much.
    Glad my PhD posts are helpful 🙂 I know I didn’t really have a clue when I started applying so wanted others to be able to learn a bit from my experiences.
    Keep enjoying those neuroscience practicals – one of the most useful courses of my undergrad!

  3. Rebecca says:

    Yes I noticed that! Great brains think alike and all that…
    Thanks for all your lovely comments, too. The history ones are definitely among some of the posts I’ve had most fun writing. 🙂
    It’s definitely not just you who’s been baffled by the whole mysterious system (it’s so frustrating trying to get a straight answer out of anyone I’ve asked ‘how do I get into brain research?’) I’m desperately trying to find lab experience at the moment, though, so if you’ve got any advice to share there it would be much appreciated! 🙂

    • NeuroRach says:

      Sorry I took a little longer to reply!
      That’s a good question, lab experience can be pretty tricky to get and it can feel a lot like luck.
      I think you’ve inspired me to write another blog..!
      In the mean time, I would just suggest contacting as many people as possible.
      Like everything it’s a bit of a numbers game and don’t forget to use your contacts.
      For example tell your personal tutor you’re looking for experience, could they provide you with any? Do they know anyone who might be able to?
      There are also schemes run but some larger research institutes for undergraduate students, usually to be undertaken in the summer of year 2. These are competitive but definitely still worth going for.
      Final bit of advice is to be persistent and keep your mind open to different research areas.
      Good luck 🙂

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