Reviews: The Effect – Tron Theatre, Glasgow; Love 2.0 – Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh

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Published in The Times, Monday March 9 2015

The Effect: Three Stars

Love 2.0: Two Stars

Playwright Lucy Prebble tries to cover a lot of territory in The Effect: fraud and corruption in the pharmaceutical industry; the debilitating consequences of mental illness; love and the rationality of romantic attachment. On paper this thematic cocktail sounds tempting. Yet Prebble’s play – the follow-up to Enron, her depiction of corporate meltdown – suffers from a lack of clear dramatic purpose and a diffuse presentation of its ideas.

Nonetheless, in the play’s first Scottish production, by Firebrand, a strong ensemble tackles Prebble’s themes with sensitivity. We meet Connie (Scarlett Mack) and Tristan (Cameron Crighton), paid participants in the trial of an antidepressant, overseen by Lorna (Pauline Knowles), a psychiatrist with her own history of depression. As the process deepens, what begins as an amusing flirtation between the young guinea pigs evolves into a full-blown love affair that nearly unhinges them both.

At the heart of Prebble’s play is an argument about the validity of human feelings, and whether our emotions are purely chemical or underpinned by something deeper. It’s an odd question on which to hang a play – surely the two things are not mutually exclusive? And, too often, the playwright’s heavy hand stays our capacity to engage fully with the characters. Within these limitations, the cast, and Richard Baron, the director, create some movingly observed moments, with Knowles particularly good as a woman managing her depression in the face of her own and others’ expectations.

Pauline Knowles and Scarlett Mack in The Effect – photo by Lindsay Ross

Pic: Lindsay Ross

If Prebble’s play at least poses interesting questions about the nature of love, the new production by Sleeping Warrior Theatre Company offers a drearily crass view of heterosexual relationships in the online era. Andy McGregor’s Love 2.0 starts out promisingly enough with a couple of young Facebook obsessives, Suzie (Lucy Goldie) and Gary (Samuel Keefe), re-enacting the online back-and-forth that led to a disastrous first date. Gary hides his crippling shyness behind literary quotations he barely understands, which impresses Suzie, a badminton and Simply Red enthusiast.

It is following their cringe-worthy coffee date that McGregor loses control of his premise, with character credibility playing second fiddle to tasteless one-liners. Presumably we’re meant to sympathise with lonely Gary, but his view of women, culled from porn magazines, proves repellent, while Suzie’s character is equally volatile, veering between sunny optimism and inanity. Despite some nice visual jokes in the opening sequence, we’re left with a depressing view of the way men and women relate to each other – one that leaves a distinctly sour taste in the mouth.

The Effect is touring Scotland to March 14 (firebrandtheatre.co.uk); Love 2.0 is touring to March 28 (sleepingwarriortheatre.com)

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