This time around, The Cottesloe has been transformed into a private clinic. Except it isn’t a normal clinic but one where they carry out drug trials. As I overheard a lady saying during the interval, why would anyone put themselves through such a thing, especially when the play write, Lucy Prebble, of Enron fame, eloquently shows us what can go wrong. Of course this is fiction, but fiction of the powerful kind that makes one think about the subject long after the viewing has ended.
This particular drug trial is concerned with finding a cure for depression and Billie Piper, playing a psychology student called Connie and Jonojo O’Neill as Tristan, a laid back Northern Irish drifter, are two of the guinea pigs. Their mutual attraction is apparent from the onset of the play and they constantly flirt with one another. The two trialists are under the constant supervision of medic, Lorna, played by a nervy, humourless Anastasia Hille, who, in turn, reports back to the smug, self-important Doctor Toby played by Tom Goodman-Hill. It is evident quite early on that these two doctors have a history, which has left Lorna less than happy with its outcome.
Having passed the preliminaries, Connie and Tristan are accepted onto the trial and so they begin a course of daily doses of a dopamine based antidepressant. As the trial progresses, their dosage is increased and what started out as mutual infatuation, turns into full-blown feverish love. But is the love real or the result of them taking the drug? Come to that is one of them actually only ingesting a placebo and, if so, which one? And, in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if the couple cannot altogether trust their feelings, given that brain chemicals are what make us fall for one another in the first place? All questions that make you think whilst watching the four actors faultlessly portray their characters.
There is one scene that for me is the highlight of an otherwise nearly perfect play. Tristan and Connie have escaped the “big brother” atmosphere of the main clinic and find themselves in a large, unused room. Here, Tristan courts a more cautious Connie by doing an impromptu tap dancing routine to the strains of I’ve Got You Under My Skin. The wooing is so successful that the growing intensity of their feelings for one another is palpable and I’m sure I won’t be the only female that is likewise charmed.
Their growing love affair is cleverly balanced by the very unsuccessful relationship between the two Doctors. It transpires that Lorna who is skeptical about the use of anti-depressants actually drove Toby away because she herself suffers from depression.
The four actors cannot be faulted. Billie Piper and Jonjo O’Neill are superb and compliment each other perfectly. One totally believes in their burgeoning love affair as surely as one cannot imagine Tom Goodman-Hill playing anything other than super-smug. And surely Anastasia-Hille really does have depression problems? As despair threatens to overcome her character, Lorna, she manages to seemingly bring a corpse-like intensity to her complexion. Meanwhile Mirian Buether’s design perfectly portray the luxuriousness of the private clinic, whilst, when required, Jon Clark’s lighting imparts an unreal calm and Rupert Goold’s direction is spot on.
This is a play to make you think and enjoy in equal measure.