Review: Hasland Theatre Company’s production of The Effect

Heather Davies and Steve Cowley in The Effect at Hasland Playhouse.

Heather Davies and Steve Cowley in The Effect at Hasland Playhouse.

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Depression can be a taboo subject, one which people feel awkward about confronting.

So it’s a brave company which tackles a play with this medical condition at its heart.

The sheer power of characterisation and acting compensate for the lack of laughs in Hasland Theatre Company’s production of The Effect.

Lucy Prebble’s creation revolves around the trial of an anti-depressant drug and the development, disintegration and rebuilding of a relationship between its two guinea pigs.

Steve Cowley and Heather Davies play the volunteer testers: he’s a free spirit with a taste for adventure, she’s a home bird with a need for security. Their journey through the various stages of the experiment take them from the highs of sexual attraction to the lows of failing faculties.

Running in tandem with the main storyline is that of the psychiatrists in charge of the trial. Nicky Beards plays the doctor administering the drug and documenting its effect whose calm, assured facade masks a depressed individual who is also the focus of a trial.

David Brooks plays the doctor’s boss and former lover whose evangelical speech about the difference between a surgeon and a psychiatrist - likening the former to a plumber and the latter to an explorer - is among the highlights of the play.

The staging is sparse and clinical and the back projected images highly effective in setting the scenes and creating atmosphere.

This absorbing and intellectual play educates its audience about depression. If it teaches just one of its viewers to be more understanding and compassionate about the condition, then it will have had the desired effect.

Directed by Stuart Rooker, this heart-tugging production runs at Hasland Playhouse until Saturday, September 26.