by Adelyn Tan (16A01E)
Photos courtesy of Crispian Chan and Nithia Devan
“It’s just a chemical reaction.”
What do ethics, science and the pharmaceutical industry have in common, aside from the fact that they’re all likely to show up on your list of GP essay questions? The answer lies in The Effect, the first instalment in Pangdemonium’s three-part 2016 Season of Love.
The plot is simple to begin with – Connie, a psychology student, and Tristan, a happy-go-lucky slacker, sign up to participate in an extended drug trial testing the effects of what seems to be a harmless new antidepressant. Within the confines of the experimental facility, they are monitored by Dr Lorna James, a psychotherapist, who reports back to Dr Toby Sealey, the brains behind the new drug. Connie and Tristan meet, flirt, fall in love – or do they? The presentation of their attraction as a chemically-induced side effect of the drug calls into question the validity of their feelings. And yet, as the play mentions 2 falling in love is arguably just a chemical reaction in the brain, a comprehensible cocktail of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. What difference does it make, Tristan asks, whether it’s meeting on a holiday, or on a bus, or in a clinical experiment? What difference does it make if it’s the drug that’s nudging them closer together, or – spoiler alert! – if one of them is on a placebo?
Though chock-full with heavy themes and far more nail-bitingly serious than most of Pangdemonium’s productions, The Effect is made vastly enjoyable to watch by the the people behind the characters. Nikki Muller (High Class, Circle Mirror Transformation) and Linden Furnell (La Cage Aux Follies) share a palpable chemistry and easy banter that makes Connie and Tristan’s passionate romance heartrending, endearing and breathtaking all at once. Tan Kheng Hua (Fear of Writing, Invitation to Treat) shines in her role as Dr James, realistically and respectfully presenting the struggles that the mentally ill face on a daily basis, and Adrian Pang’s (Next to Normal, Rabbit Hole) Dr Sealey keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, eliciting laughs and gasps at all the appropriate moments in the play. The cast works together seamlessly, upping the ante every time it seems like something’s finally going well, and makes the two and a half hours worth of plot seem like no time at all.
In the guise of a simple love story, The Effect masterfully explores the murky depths of Big Pharma, questions the fallibility of science, depicts the reality of living with mental illness, and poses its audience some very difficult questions: what is right? what is best? what is this mysterious, beautiful, abstract thing we deem to be LOVE? Profound ideas and heavy themes, which leave one trying to catch their breath when the curtain goes down. This is one drug trial you won’t regret volunteering for.
The Effect will be staged at Victoria Theatre from 25 February until 13 March. Tickets are still available and can be purchased through SISTIC or at pangdemonium.com.