Jonathan Harding Cooper’s The Effect in situ at The Bridewell Theatre is a fascinating piece. The set is stark and bright, everything looks clean to the touch, pretty much how you would expect a hospital room to look. It’s well thought out and that theme continues throughout the play.

Don't be fooled into thinking this is a love story between boy (Tristan played by Omar Aga) and girl (Connie played by Jess Rogers), set against the backdrop of romantic music and lingering looks at each other. The looks do exist, but is this version of love a placebo effect? At this point, I must commend Kimberley Barker  - Wellbeing & Intimacy Coach in the Crew for the very clear respect and space she has carved out for all involved.

Boy and Girl meet on a drug trial for antidepressants. He flirts and offers to hold her urine sample bottle, she lunges forward, touches his urine bottle and giggles. The flirting is extended with a chat about her boyfriend who oddly, she doesn’t say much about. 
As the drug dosage increases, the two have increased feelings for each other including tension and anxiety. They are chastised by the psychiatrist for sneaking off to indulge in smoking and sexual activity. They argue in a heated way that if ‘you give us a drug that causes irrationality, how can you accuse us of being irrational?’ That’s a good point, the psychiatrist fires back in a laugh-out-loud moment. 

The twist in the plot occurs when the psychiatrist tells the girl that the boy is on a placebo but she isn’t. This throws up an interesting thread - does he really love her, but she is reacting to the meds? Or vice versa? In a further somewhat confusing plot twist, no this turns out not to be the case, they are both in treatment phase.

As the reach maximum dose girl gives the boy her tablet. He collapses and goes into transient global amnesia requiring a blood transfusion. She visits him daily but he is unaware, she masturbates him in his hospital bed and wishes they could grow old together. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist (Jessica Dawes) succumbs to her own depression and sits in a near-catatonic state. 

There is a lot of meat on The Effect’s Bones. It’s a shame they weren’t fleshed out and really explored. The highlight of the show was when, on her drug round, the nurse (Sophie Goodman) almost fell over in an unscripted way. It’s a shame that the funniest part was a bit unintentional slapstick and the ensuing suppressed giggles -the gasps and comments when the actors undressed to put on their hospital wear - more six-pack then pill pack at that point!

Once finessed and tightened up The Effect has huge potential to fly. The subject matter and content are fascinating. What lets it down is that on several occasions, the suspension of disbelief falls away. 

It runs until 25 March.

Review: Kay Johal