Reviews are coming in for the National Theatre’s new revival of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, starring Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell.
Lucy Prebble (HBO’s Succession, The Sugar Syndrome, ENRON, A Very Expensive Poison) scored a hit with her funny and intimate examination of love and ethics when it first premiered at the National Theatre in 2012, winning the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.
The cast also includes Michele Austin (Cyrano de Bergerac) as Dr Lorna James and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (Tina – The Tina Turner Musical) as Dr Toby Sealey; and the cast also includes Shereener Browne, Valentine Hanson, Mara Huf, and Joseph Langdon.
Alongside Jamie Lloyd, the creative team features set and costume design by regular Jamie Lloyd collaborator Soutra Gilmour, plus lighting design by Jon Clark, composition by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante, sound design by George Dennis, movement direction by Sarah Golding and Yukiko Masui (SAY), fight direction by Kate Waters, intimacy co-ordination by Ingrid Mackinnon and casting by Alastair Coomer CDG and Chloe Blake.
The Effect is playing at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre until 7 October 2023.
Read reviews from the Times, Telegraph, TimeOut and more, with further reviews to be added.
The Effect reviews
"Tender, thrilling and elegantly brutal"
"Scorchingly intelligent staging probes the workings of head, heart and body, and the mysteries of the human condition"
"Prebble has tweaked the text to allow for some up-to-date cultural references and subtly reshaped it around Lloyd’s staggeringly fine four-strong cast. Her writing is glittering and mercurial – it has wit and vividness, yet it’s also remorselessly clear-eyed. And there’s a compulsive, sweaty-palmed tautness about Lloyd’s staging, a sense of suppressed panic."
"Lloyd splits the audience in two, a little like the left and right cerebral hemispheres. We’re seated on either side of a traverse stage that, designed by Soutra Gilmour and lit by Jon Clark, glows scorching white"
"Essiedu’s flirty swagger, spiked with needling banter, masks self-doubt and neediness, while Russell, earnest and intellectually curious, is palpably drawn to his rule-breaking spontaneity."
" It’s the kind of theatre that lives with you, turning over in the mind long after the experiment ends."
"Lucy Prebble’s intense and intoxicating encounter"
"A love affair between participants in a drug trial is staged by Jamie Lloyd with a stellar cast including Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell"
"Senses are sharpened in Jamie Lloyd’s slick, heady revival of Lucy Prebble’s 2012 play. If the script seems somewhat sober compared with the writer’s recent TV heights of I Hate Suzie and Succession, it remains an intellectually and physically intense experience, with subtle edits that sharpen and freshen the text for a stellar new cast."
"Essiedu and Russell are gorgeous together; she holds herself with a controlled stillness, a quiet confidence in her curiosity, while he is looser, bounding around, joking and flirting and quick to fly into fury."
"Lloyd’s elegant direction does away with props and set pieces, allowing the actors to glide across Jon Clark’s bright white LED floor that robs them of their shadows, creating a dazzling sense of unreality."
"A fiery play that explores and questions 'lab-made' love"
"Jamie Lloyd's production forms a kaleidoscope of questions for audiences as it explores themes of love and mental health amid a drug trial"
"At least for now we have a revival of her greatest play, 2012’s The Effect, in a customary fiery and focused production from Jamie Lloyd that offers its own rare side effect of making the National’s Lyttelton an unexpectedly exciting space by slicing it in two."
"Prebble – whose ear for whip smart dialogue easily predates Succession - dramatises these questions within the intimate form of a diagrammatic chamber piece that in Lloyd’s production is both dystopian horror story and lucid ethical debate."
"As Tristan and Connie, Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell are a joy to watch, Essiedu’s clumsy charismatic libido beautifully bumping up against Taylor’s slowly melting analytical reserve."
"Slyly updated, the play has not only kept up with the conversations around mental health and depression but, in an era facing unprecedented ontological challenges from digital tech, expanded them."
"Lucy Prebble’s drug trial drama benefits from new treatment"
"New version of 2012 play comes to National Theatre with all-black cast"
"Beneath the more obvious sexual and power dynamics lurk the submerged class distinctions, sharpened by having an all-black cast. This puts the emphasis on divisions within the black community rather than on race."
"Paapa Essiedu beguiles as Tristan, bouncing, weaving, comically dragging his trainers as he invades Connie’s precious space. Taylor Russell is a delicate but somewhat underpowered Connie in a role originally created for the magnetic Billie Piper."
"Director Jamie Lloyd gradually allows the subtlety to disperse in mass shouting, a disagreeable effect exacerbated by the actors being mic’d up. The Effect is fascinating — but never soul-stirring."
"Is it love – or drugs? Lucy Prebble’s lab trial drama fires the synapses"
"‘I May Destroy You’ star Paapa Essiedu is vulnerable and charming in the first revival of ‘Succession’ writer Lucy Prebble’s 2012 play about whether we can tell the difference between anti-depressants and placebos"
"... Lucy Prebble’s 2012 play – revived at the National Theatre in a flashy Jamie Lloyd production – perceptively shows that when it comes to mental health, we’re all still fumbling around in the dark, like medieval physicians who’ve dropped their tallow candles."
"Lloyd’s production makes them physically grapple with the question: piggybacks, wheelbarrows, and gymnastic horseplay in neat squares of white light, as they explore whether it’s their body or soul that means they can’t keep their hands off each other."
"Paapa Essiedu is all compelling, shambling, vulnerable charm. You can feel that he believes in the big stuff: god, love, fate. By contrast, Taylor Russell... has an engaging, puncturing nerviness. Her fragility can’t quite hide her hunger for control over both her new boyfriend and the unknowable cosmos in general."
"Ultimately, questions of drugs and dopamine get sidelined with a bit of a shrug, with Prebble deliberately choosing to explore (un)romantic chemistry over psychiatry. But even so, it’s hard not to feel like the conversation’s moved on a little since 2012."
"Paapa Essiedu dazzles in the National Theatre’s revival of The Effect"
"Lucy Prebble’s drugs clinic satire is a welcome dose of strong medicine"
"No interval, no readmission, comfort zone left at the door: from the second you walk into the radically reconfigured Lyttelton auditorium for this revival of Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, it’s clear you cannot relax."
"Prebble... writes razor-edged dialogue that thinly slices her characters’ brains, mounting their emotions on slides until they are almost — almost — transparent. Yet alongside the cerebral writing is the burning physicality in Essiedu and Russell’s performances"
"Lifeis the experiment, The Effect suggests; not everyone gets the right results. It’s strong medicine."
"A mind-bending experience"
"Jamie Lloyd’s production is a 100-minute emotional arc"
"A play of ideas about the way our brains work is welded to a ruthless 100-minute emotional arc, laced with wit and given a bittersweet ending. It receives a typically stark, urgent production from Jamie Lloyd which left me impressed and stimulated but also weirdly flat."
"Austin and Holdbrook-Smith still manage to give fine, funny performances, and the two leads are terrific. The mercurial Essiedu creates a loose, lairy physicality unlike anything else I’ve seen him do. He’s absolutely matched by Russell, whose understated self-possession is riveting."
"These days Lloyd usually boils plays down to their thrilling essence: this production feels like a throwback to earlier times when he blew them up. It’s still striking, and I still think he’s the most exciting director working today."
"Lucy Prebble’s play says less about mental health than it thinks it does"
"Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell’s characters fall for each other when they take part in a clinical trial for a new anti-depressant"
"Firecracker director Jamie Lloyd is never one to do things by half measures."
"Frustratingly, Prebble provides no sense of the pair as characters with pasts and backstories or, more pertinently, people with any history of depressive illness. Without this to anchor us, and them, the subsequent events are in danger of seeming facile."
"Essiedu and Canadian screen star Russell, making a stage debut of note with a performance of startling vulnerability, maintain an admirable level of emotional intensity as they fast-forward from reticence to intimacy and beyond."
"The Effect should have a far greater effect than it does."
"Bold staging from Jamie Lloyd and fine performances from Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell can’t quite hide the fact that Lucy Prebble’s play has dated a bit"
"When it premiered more than a decade ago, the play was a dopamine hit for critics. Billie Piper starred, Prebble was riding the high of her breakthrough ‘Enron’, the play seemed knotty and wise and relevant. A decade on, Jamie Lloyd directs a revival which, although stylish, has lost some of its efficacy in the intervening years."
"As we’d expect from Lloyd, he’s assembled a crack cast including a fabulously naturalistic, loveable Paapa Essiedu (‘I May Destroy You’) as Tristan and Taylor Russell as Connie, straight from the success of the brilliant cannibal love story ‘Bones and All’ – her furrowed brows and constant self-questioning are an excellent contrast to Essiedu’s flirty confidence."
"But Lloyd sometimes brings flash when he should bring pace."
"Although it’s a bit too long, and although it doesn’t match the greatness of much that has come since, I still love Lucy."
"Medication drama fails to stimulate the emotions"
"... if you weren’t won over by the piece the first time around, I’m not sure Lloyd will convince you now. There’s no shortage of his trademark bravura touches — Jon Clark’s lighting assaults the senses, an ambient soundtrack hums away and Soutra Gilmour, the set designer, has turned the Lyttelton into a more intimate space by introducing a starkly illuminated traverse stage. But in a play that turns on the question of how much emotions can be manipulated by medication, the director’s sleight of hand makes you even more aware of the script’s schematic structure, not to mention its implausible aspects."
"Russell, making her professional stage debut, grows in stature as the 100-minute piece unfolds. Essiedu’s wide-boy is a trickier proposition."
"It’s More Than Chemical"
"In a revival of Lucy Prebble’s play at the National Theater, in London, Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell are terrific as a couple who meet during a pharmaceutical trial."
"Paapa Essiedu — best known for his role in the hit TV show, “I May Destroy You” — is a delight as Tristan, whose roguish charm wins over the audience within minutes. Taylor Russell’s Connie is equally engaging as she slides from steely indifference to caring devotion, almost in spite of herself."
"The dialogue is deftly composed, and the ethical dilemmas teased out, rather than bludgeoned. This tautness of the writing, together with the strength of the actors’ performances, and its impressive visual aesthetic, elevates this play above the ordinary rung of sociopolitical parables."