I felt the urge to cry but I didn´t seem to be able to. I also felt calm, serene in a way, as if some mighty truth had been revealed to me.
The story had me trapped right from the start. A man and a woman volunteer to take part in medical trials for a new anti-depressant drug. She: psychology student, realistic about life, slightly cynical about love, rational (as most scientific minds). He: carefree, humorous, optimistic, living-the-moment kind of guy.
And what starts as a healthy flirtatious courtship soon turns into a love affair. But is it love love or just a consequence of the anti-depressant drugs that are being given to them? These drugs fire chemical reactions in the brain, mainly to produce dopamine, substance responsible for feelings like happiness or love. But in higher doses also comes with abnormal heightened emotions, acceleration of heartbeat, over excitement, inability to sleep or eat... But are these not the symptoms of any human in love? The couple cope with the reaction to the drugs as well as trying to understand all the feelings that are rushing through them while attempting to rationalize if what they are experiencing is "real" love or just a consequence of the anti-depressants. At one point, they decided that it doesn`t matter and give into the emotions.
In literature and cinema, love is usually portrayed as a kind of madness, with symtoms similar to fever or dementia: can't sleep or eat, feel hot, nervious, can't stop thinking (about the love subject)... And so does the play. But is that what love really is? Has everybody that has been in love experienced that flow of heightened emotions and temporary crazyness? If that is what love truly feels, or should feel like, I don't believe half of the people that assure/assume they are in love have actually been in love. I certainly haven't.
Of course, every person is different and so is every brain. The information we experience from the outside world is filtered and understood in a unique way by every one of us. Some people might describe love as tenderness, others as blind trust, others as a feeling of security. But few would describe it as a whirwind of emotions (like the ones displayed on the play), at least not in the long term. That kind of infatuation and passion tends to be experienced in the early stages of a relationship but usually wears off. What the play is arising is the idea of a drug, a "viagra for the heart" that could keep us in that over-emotive state constantly.
Although it seems like an unlikely idea, I think if it was available, people would buy into it.
In the world we live in, so influenced by the media and all these stereotypes about how we should look and feel, having a drug that could make us fall in love and be insanely happy as if out of a Shakespearean Sonnet would be successful. In our society, we never consider ourselves happy; it is always "not as happy as..." or "not as thin as..." We tend to believe that the life we lead or the emotions we experience are not perfect or enough to satisfy us and we should always be looking for something higher above. However, if we are happy to accept that we are never entirely "happy" with our way of life, we are quick to classify depression as an illness and an abnormal state of mind when we don't even consider our state of mind to be normal and up the standards.
All this questions arise in "The Effect" but the meaning is open to interpretation. Every person in the audience was comparing their own love life and emotions to the ones experienced by the characters and questioning whether their feelings are as real and powerful as the chemistry that was almost palpable on stage.
So, what can us, the mortals in the real world that don´t live in a fictional fantasy do when it comes to our feelings? Would we dare to take a "drug for happiness" and fall head over heels for someone that we normally would only exchange polite remarks? Or live our lives until the end always looking for that "crazy, true love" to appear?
The Effect is on at the National Theatre until 23rd of February