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.
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…!