‘The Effect’ review — a bold play with big questions

Read our review of The Effect off Broadway, a play by Lucy Prebble making its New York premiere at The Shed following a critically acclaimed run in London.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

Entering The Shed’s Griffin Theater is disorienting. Loud pre-show music (compositions by Michael “Mikey J” Asante and sound design by George Dennis) drums as audience members take their seats for The Effect. This sensory overwhelm is by design, and it effectively keys the audience into the play’s theme of the loss of control.

The Effect, penned by Emmy Award winner Lucy Prebble (HBO’s Succession), follows two patients at a clinical trial for an antidepressant who fall in love — but the euphoric feeling might just be the drug’s ability to mimic dopamine. Lines blur between chaos and control, reality and mentality, and right and wrong.

Under the direction of Jamie Lloyd, the production design excels at driving chaos. In addition to the jarring music, which dulls to a thrumming soundscape, Jon Clark’s strobing lights help showcase the turmoil inside the characters’ brains. The production’s catwalk stage, with seating on two sides facing toward each other, forces the audience to observe and engage in the mind game.

The standout performances by Taylor Russell and Paapa Essiedu, who star as the patients, are thrilling. The characters experience a full range of effects from the drug, and the audience watches as they coyly engage in a game of “will they or won’t they” and aggressively spiral from the drug’s side effects.

For a play with a simple premise, four characters, two chairs, and one prop (a brain in a bucket!), its impact is significant — and the lingering questions are plentiful.

The Effect summary

Connie (Russell) and Tristan (Essiedu) are whirling in the giddy, trembly phase of new love. Or is infatuation just a side effect of a drug? The Effect wrestles with the ethics of psychopharmacology and explores the intricate relationship between the heart and the brain. The 100-minute play transferred to The Shed after an acclaimed run at London’s National Theatre.

What to expect at The Effect

The play, which is recommended for audience members 12 and older, grapples with some heavy themes. The production includes strong language, sexual content, and references to suicide, depression, and anxiety. There are also flashing lights, smoke effects, and loud music.

Despite the hard topics, there are moments of levity throughout the play, like a scene in which Tristan shows off his dance moves to woo Connie, which leaves the audience laughing.

What audiences are saying about The Effect

The production is having a positive effect on audiences. At the time of publication, The Effect had a 90% approval rating on Show-Score, with audiences particularly praising the show’s tight script.

  • “See it if you want to see an electric production of a thought-provoking play with impeccable acting, writing, and direction.” - Show-Score user MyCrablikeLove
  • “See it if you're interested in an intense drama that questions pharmacological ethics, the nature of depression, and what makes feelings our own.” - Show-Score user gostak
  • “Don't see it if you want to see something with elaborate sets or props.” - Show-Score user MeganB
  • “Don't see it if you are upset by mental illness and apparent loss of control.” - Show-Score user Marianne 6282

Read more audience reviews of The Effect on Show-Score.

Who should see The Effect

  • Director Jamie Lloyd’s most recent Broadway credit was A Doll’s House in 2023. Fans of that production, with its minimal staging and emphasis on the play’s text, might enjoy The Effect.
  • Those who enjoyed HBO’s hit TV show Succession will enjoy seeing an earlier work by Lucy Prebble, a co-executive producer and writer on the show.
  • The Effect is a meaty show for playgoers who want to see a thought-provoking drama to debate with their seatmates afterward.

Learn more about The Effect off Broadway

The play has had an indelible effect on me, and its big questions about mentality versus reality are lodged in my brain. Besides the evocative script and staging, Taylor Russell’s first foray on the stage makes this show a must-see.

Learn more and get The Effect tickets on New York Theatre Guide. The Effect is at The Shed through March 31.

Photo credit: Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell in The Effect. (Photo by Marc Brenner)

Originally published on

Subscribe to our newsletter to unlock exclusive New York theatre updates!

  • Get early access to Broadway's newest shows
  • Access to exclusive deals and promotions
  • Stay in the know about top shows and news on Broadway
  • Get updates on shows that are important to you

You can unsubscribe at any time. Privacy Policy