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The Effect
IO Performance
IO HQ

March 15th, 2024

If “Momentum” is the inspiring motif behind IO Performance’s 2024 season, then Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, directed by Stephanie Francis, (part of IO’s new initiative IONS, a way to support early to mid-career directors with less than 3 shows to their name) is the perfect inauguration. IO’s 2024 season couldn’t have started with more “Momentum”, alongside innovation, inspiration and creativity that will hopefully continue to push the ambition of the company throughout the rest of their 2024 season.


The Effect focuses on two young protagonists, Connie (Sakura Walker) and Tristan (Bryce Schreuder) who voluntarily enrol in a clinical drug trial, focused specifically on the reactions and response to increasing levels of psychotics and how they affect the minds of those suffering from mental health or depressive disorders. As the title suggests, the effect of these drug trials not only increases the dopamine levels in the brain, but also affects these two vulnerable young people in matters of the heart. As they begin to fall in love and throw the trial into chaos, we are asked the question: “Is love simply a byproduct of situation?” The play becomes a weird drug infused Nature vs Nurture debate, as Connie and Tristan have to distinguish whether the attraction and love they begin to feel for each other is caused by their shared close proximity and their increased dopamine levels or is there infatuation with one another honest devotion.

Director Stephanie Francis opts for a stripped back approach to staging and combined with tightly styled and strictly choreographed blocking, this approach enables the performers to shine above the innovative technical elements being showcased and deliver levels of empathy sometimes sorely missed. This approach holds our attention throughout the two-hour run time, giving all four actors moments to live inside the peaks and troughs without overperforming or dragging scenes out past their welcome. I think there were opportunities that were missed for this tightly styled blocking to continue in Act 2, for as the emotions and feelings felt by the actors began to ramp up, the movement got much looser. This didn’t detract from the performances, which were impeccable, but could have helped to drive home some moments with more devastation and precision.


Schreuder’s Tristan stands out in this regard, the low-key delivery of his dialogue; may have initially seemed counter-intuitive, gave his performance flexibility and performance peaks that were felt naturally rather than being overplayed or over indulged. His performance was beautifully matched by Walker’s Connie, who counter balanced Tristan’s nonchalance, with anxiety and distress that emanated with instinctive ease that set up both actors’ ability to facilitate cathartic responses throughout. Both possessed a powerfully intimate flirtatiousness, that culminates with the standout moment of the entire piece for me; a beautifully choreographed moment of minimal intimacy, laced with symbolism and set against the backdrop of a retro soundtrack that struck shades of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that closes Act 1. The other two members of this strong ensemble, Jade Howard as Lorna and Leigh Oswin as Toby, are the two doctors conducting the clinical trial, and while their scenes are significantly different from the scenes between Walker and Schreuder, Howard and Oswin’s chemistry creates a strange yet harrowing counterpoint to our two protagonists. They become reminiscent of a mirror to Connie and Tristan; maybe a distorted and warped mirror, but one that reflects back to them the “Effects” of their current experiences after the dopamine wears off.  Howard’s Lorna steals the show in these scenes, as she delivers not only some of the funniest lines of the night, but also the absolute gut punch that leaves us all gasping for air by the final curtain.

On a technical level, while the set design was minimal, it served the show and manufactured an environment that didn’t only feel clinical but also voyeuristic. The small white panels; disconnected and resembling a cross section of a hospital ward; also served as mini screens for a live feed camera that exhibited the “subjects” in an absurdly unobtrusive way. It felt like watching through a keyhole, never once taking focus yet subtly giving the audience a different perspective.  Yet for me, the most Innovative element in The Effect, was the inclusion of a live DJ (Owen Francis) on stage, who manipulated the soundscapes and soundtrack created throughout the show, based purely off feeling. Used at most points to amplify a moment of poignancy, Francis would manipulate and shape the sound dependent on how the performers dictate. Whether it be from volume, emotion, movement, or pace, he would make subtle and simple changes to the soundscapes to emphasise these moments. Having focused significantly on how music can affect an actor in performance in my own work, this inventive new approach to sound design is close to one of the most exciting things I have seen from IO Performance.

Discussing this with performers after the show, I was intrigued to know exactly how much “Effect” this had had on the way in which their performances continued to stay fresh and alive. This element enabled the performers to continue to find new perspectives and understandings through not only the rehearsal period, but the entire way through the run of the show. This is an exciting way to create art, and performances that leave an audience in utter devastation. Not only did The Effect have its desired outcome inside the walls of the play, it had such a profound “Effect” on everything outside of it, Performance, Art and Audience. This production is one you must see. IO Performance have really set up their year with incredible “Momentum”.


Review By Matt Taylor

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