Reaction is the fundamental parameter by which the asymmetry of the velocity triangle of a stage is set. Little is understood about the effect that reaction has on either the efficiency or the operating range of a compressor. A particular difficulty in understanding the effect of reaction is that the rotor and stator have a natural asymmetry caused by the centrifugal effects in the rotor boundary layer being much larger than that in the stator boundary layer. In this paper a novel approach has been taken: McKenzie's ‘linear repeating stage’ concept is used to remove the centrifugal effects. The centrifugal effects are then reintroduced as a body force. This allows the velocity triangle effect and centrifugal force effect to be decoupled. The paper shows the surprising result that, depending on how the solidity is set, a 50% reaction stage can either result in the maximum, or the minimum, profile loss. When the centrifugal effects are removed, 50% reaction is shown to minimise endwall loss, maximise stage efficiency and maximise operating range. When the centrifugal effects are reintroduced, the compressor with the maximum design efficiency is found to rise in reaction by 5% (from 50% reaction to 55% reaction) and the compressor with the maximum operating range is found to rise in reaction by 15% (from 50% reaction to 65% reaction).