London at Dawn, and The Effect at Night

The Effect 1

Tickets were not easy to hunt down. By the time I found out about The Effect the entire run had sold out, and I was forced to resort to the perils of on-the-day tickets. The box office opens at 9.30am, but the desperate have been known to start queuing before 7. Some (me) would also call them The Mad, and it is they that force the rest of us to join them in this dawn farce.

I have done this once before, for The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Winter sunshine, a handsome boy and a chatty couple who had somehow arrived before us made the experience just about bearable. London is beautiful in the morning, before swarms of tourists descend and worker bees pour out of tube stations and off buses. Your footsteps vibrate through the fabric of the city, and you feel connected to it in a way that is rarely so magnetic.

If you are a part of the daily 9-5 grind then this experience is more difficult to appreciate, and for this I apologise. I tried a 9-5 job myself for a year (don’t laugh, I did). I enjoyed the spirit of camaraderie when squeezing into packed tube carriages, suited sardines politely holding each other upright through sheer numbers. Occasionally your feet will be lifted from the floor, and you can float in a sea of free newspapers, nodding along to the tinny bass seeping from someone’s cheap headphones. I felt like I was playing a game, pretending to be a normal person, and the certain transience of my position prevented me from going mad. The experience only lithified my certainty that such work was not for me, however. I do know many wonderful people who are perfectly happy doing 9-5 work, and for them I am grateful, as it means I don’t bloody have to.

The Effect 2

Reblogged from

I awoke to a grey sky threatening rain, and an icy wind that made me feel like the lobsters Fortnum and Mason keep on ice; only the occasionally rotating eyeball or slowly lifted claw indicating life. I arrived at 8am, and found that several shivering squatters had already claimed their place in the queue. About thirty more joined us by the time the doors were opened. The majority looked to be students, though a range of ages turned out. The crowd were also chatty and friendly, all newcomers saying at least a few words to those at either end of the dishevelled caterpillar we formed, but be wary of entering into conversation with those capable of rising this early. We are not in the Early Modern era. it is not normal. I’d also advise befriending the person next to you so that they’ll save your place, and popping round the corner to the cafe, which opens earlier than the rest of the theatre.

Tickets victoriously purchased (twenty available per production, two per person), I sleepily got on with the rest of my day.

For anyone suspicious of theatre, remember that an appreciation of and need for storytelling is deeply embedded in our psyche, and the actors are there for YOU. To make you smile, and cry, and hopefully cheer them on for their labours. Even if you don’t enjoy the performance at least you will have experienced it, and you may even learn something.

The Effect 3

Taken from

The Effect is a new play by Lucy Prebble of Enron fame, and, amongst other serious actors, stars the beautiful Billie Piper. The promotional material claims it to be “a clinical romance…[which] explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine”. Reviews have posited it as a well-acted and intelligent play. As “impressive”, “complex”, “fascinating” and “perceptive”. I don’t usually read reviews before attending theatre productions (this is not normal, and not good advice), and I’m glad I stuck to my philosophy on this occasion, as I would have been disappointed. I thought it was wonderfully acted, and an interesting premise, but not as clever or thought-provoking as it could have been.

The Effect 4

Piper gave a beautifully emotive performance, expressing her character’s often conflicting traits with sincerity. Plus she got naked (well, almost – underwear remained firmly in place). Which the majority of the audience clearly appreciated. The rest of the cast were similarly proficient, but the two male leads were caricatures, which distanced the audience from the narrative. It just seemed too implausible that either female lead would fall for these men. Connie (Piper) meets Tristan (Jonjo O’Neill), whilst taking part in a paid pharmaceutical trial  testing the effects of anti-depressants. They fall in love and break the rules, until a twist in the second half brings tragedy to their situation. The two doctors are equally important, and their own relationship and arguments further explore questions about mental health.

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By the interval I had my fingers crossed that something controversial and thought-provoking would actually occur, and the second half did bring this. The tone changed,  the characters changed, and it was almost enough to validate the first half. Not enough for Tom, who thought the whole thing laboured and trite, and the philosophy childish. Ouch. He also admitted that it was entertaining, however, and pointed out that this is only his ‘academic twat’ perspective, so take that with a pinch of salt. For me it lacked the wit and character development of  Blue/Orange for example, a Joe Penhall play that deals with mental health and the motives of its institutions and doctors. Prebble raises some interesting and important questions, but I felt that she failed to really explore them.

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I want to recommend The Effect. The acting is poignant, honest, and moving, and for that if nothing else I will say to you ‘yes, it’s worth seeing’. But I left wanting more than that.

Has anyone else seen this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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