The staging is used to conceal 'an insubstantial play' - The...
The staging is used to conceal 'an insubstantial play' - The Effect review

The staging is used to conceal 'an insubstantial play' - The Effect review

Lucy Prebble’s four-hander about drug testing in a controlled environment that premiered in 2012 has lost some of its dramatic lustre. Now firmly in his minimalist phase, director Jamie Lloyd sets this revival in an ascetic institution where Tristan (Paapa Essiedu) and Connie (Taylor Russell in her professional stage debut) are willing guinea pigs in the trial of a new antidepressant whose side effect may reproduce romantic attraction. While the exterior may be new, the internal debate on overreaching science dates back to Frankenstein and possibly beyond. Blazing white lights pour down from a long gantry above and from below the oblong acting area with audiences seated on either side as the two paid volunteers grapple with sensations they may never have felt without chemical stimulants. At one end of the stage, Dr Lorna James (Michelle Austin) interrogates them on their shifting states of mind while opposite her Dr Toby Seeley (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) the softly spoken creator of the drug justifies his position in a way that combines hypocrisy with sophistry. While Prebble dabbles with the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health - “It’s the same thing” declares Dr Toby addressing the audience - her conclusions are too obvious to be either satisfying or challenging. Essiedu dominates the stage as the nervy Tristan, dancing around the more insular Connie and bringing life and an energy to the sterile enterprise that it sorely needs. Both Austin and Holdbrook-Smith are also effective in their quietly charged encounters that hint at some long buried past between them. But the resolution is not enough to warrant the sharp, occasionally histrionic performances and one is left with the suspicion that Lloyd’s staging - vicious lighting, clanking, post-industrial soundscape - is a diversionary tactic designed to conceal an insubstantial play. It's almost as if Prebble was inspired originally by Roxy Music and then tried to cover her tracks. Love is the drug she’s thinking of. The Effect, National Theatre until October 7, Tickets: 020 7452 3961

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