Chemistry of attraction explored in critically acclaimed play The Effect

By Megan Bedford

 Zoë Robins and Jayden Daniels star as Connie and Tristan, the two embarking on a new relationship while involved in a clinical drug trial.  Image / Signý Björg
Zoë Robins and Jayden Daniels star as Connie and Tristan, the two embarking on a new relationship while involved in a clinical drug trial. Image / Signý Björg
A thought-provoking study of love and neuroscience takes the audience of Auckland Theatre Company’s newest play on an emotional journey.

Is love innate, or can it be influenced? Is it simply biological chemistry? How do you tell that it is real? These are some of the questions delved into in Auckland Theatre Company’s bold production of critically acclaimed play, The Effect.

Written by British playwright Lucy Prebble, famed for her work on TV series Succession, the play centres around two volunteers, Connie and Tristan, who sign up for a clinical drug trial testing a new antidepressant. Sealed off from the outside world, they fall hard for each other, but grapple with the idea their intense feelings may just be a side effect of the drug that’s firing a dopamine hit to their brains.

Premiering at London’s National Theatre in 2012, The Effect has made its mark around the world, the four-actor production this time helmed in Auckland by director Benjamin Kilby-Henson. In 2024, where mental health challenges are in stark focus, the play’s ruminations on the possibilities and ethical complexities of science as well as how we treat depression, are relevant as ever.

As Connie’s (played by Zoë Robins) and Tristan’s (played by Jayden Daniels) illicit romance throws the trial off course, tensions flare between the two supervising psychiatrists who, it is revealed, have a messy history of their own.

The four-actor production features (back) Jarod Rawiri, Sara Wiseman, (front) Jayden Daniels and Zoë Robins. Image / Signý Björg

Actors Jarod Rawiri and Sara Wiseman step up in the roles of the two doctors, completing the captivating cast that carries the two-hour-plus show.

Rawiri, fresh from directing Māori TV series Ahikāroa and acting in The Brokenwood Mysteries, says he’s excited about the challenge the play poses for both the performers and the audience.

With a simple set and some sparse dialogue, there is potential for movement and proximity to help convey what words do not. “We’re going to be really challenged as actors to present the script in a dynamic way and fully commit ourselves emotionally to connecting with each other,” he says. “So I would expect it would be quite an emotional journey the audience will also go on. There’ll be some real investment in the characters.”

The experienced TV and theatre actor says he can see the link between Prebble’s previous work on Succession. “It definitely feels in that realm where there is lots of power play between the characters, but still strong emotional elements to it as well.”

Jarod Rawiri and Sara Wiseman play the trial’s supervising psychiatrists in The Effect. Images / Signý Björg

The themes in The Effect lend themselves to this approach well. “Science versus human interaction, and what is love, and what is our relationship to it?” he says. “As a psychiatrist, the effects that you have on people and understanding the way that human nature is … I’m looking forward to diving deep.”

There’s an unsettling undercurrent in the work. “Even the hierarchy [of medical professionals involved in the trial] in terms of the way that they work and what they believe that they are doing in pursuit of trying to make life easier for people.”

Rawiri believes our experiences with the recent pandemic, not only in the role the medical community plays but regarding our own isolation and disconnection, also bring new relevancy to the story.

“I worked with Jayden while we were both at Shortland Street,” says Rawiri. “He’s got a huge amount of emotional range. The character he plays is quite a vibrant character, who has very little fear. He and Zoe will be quite electrifying on stage. The journey of their two characters is delicate, it’s also funny, and it’s super-emotional.”

Before rehearsals even began, the cast were sharing ideas, eager to get started on bringing the play to life. Says Rawiri: “We’re all so excited to be involved and the potential of it. Some of us have turned down other opportunities overseas to just make sure that we all do it together.”

The Effect
Auckland Theatre Company

16 April – 11 May 2024


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