People, Places and Things

Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places and Things started out in the National’s Dorfman theatre, and after critical and public acclaim transferred to the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre for a ten-week season. This is where I eventually got around to watching it, to see if it lived up to the hype.

The play is about actress Emma, who ends up at a rehab clinic after turning up to work under the influence. It follows her as she undergoes treatment and tries to cope with the world around her. The play’s title is a reference to everything around her that could impede her recovery, the ‘people, places and things’ that could trigger a relapse. Jeremy Herrin’s production is superb, with Bunny Christie’s stark set, and striking lighting and sound conveying Emma’s disorientated state. The play’s tagline says that it is about “trying to survive in the modern world”, and I think this is pretty accurate: more than just an “addiction” play, it is about our approach to life, and I’m sure many members of the audience could relate to Emma’s views about life – I know I could. Emma is an actress, but I don’t agree with the view that this is an actor’s play: it is about performing in general, the extent to which we all try and be something we’re not. The play doesn’t shy away from the enjoyable aspects of taking drugs, but it certainly doesn’t glamorise addiction: the consequences both for the individual and the people around them are truthfully explored, most notably in an incredibly powerful scene towards the end of the play in which we meet Emma’s parents.

Much has been said about Denise Gough’s performance as Emma (for which she recently won an Olivier), and I can only add my praise to the multitude: I thought she was fantastic, completely inhabiting her character and succeeding in making us root for her even though she wasn’t always particularly likeable. All of the supporting actors did a great job, and I was particularly impressed with Barbara Marten as both Emma’s mother and her psychiatrist.

This play left me emotional and shaken up: I can’t remember the last time a play had such a strong impact on me. People, Places and Things closes in June and I would urge you to see it before it goes.


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