There are some absolute must-sees in the West End right now – and People, Places & Things is one of them.
Denise Gough’s intoxicating performance is reason enough to go. She stars as a woman in rehab struggling to break her addiction to, well, a whole lot of things (gin, cigarettes, weed, speed, cocaine, valium, beta blockers and ibuprofen, to name just a few) while searching for a meaningful connection to herself, her family and her existence in the world. Gough spends much of her 90 minutes onstage teetering around, writhing in a bed, slurring her speech and shouting profanities. It’s an unbelievably intense, emotionally charged role for which she recently scored the Best Actress prize at the 2016 Olivier Awards.
People, Places & Things opened in mid March at Wyndham’s Theatre. It was written by Duncan Macmillan, who penned an acclaimed adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 and the 21st century love story Lungs. His plays are known for being bleak and brutally honest.
However, it’s impossible to know when Gough, as the main character Emma (aka Sarah, Lucy and Nina – we’re never sure of her real name), is telling the truth. Fearing she could be an overdose away from death, Emma checks herself in to a treatment centre. During sessions with the doctor and group, questions about life, morality and religion all pop up. Emma is prodded to admit her powerlessness over substances as well as to the people, places and things that trigger her usage. But her ‘toxic combination of low self-esteem and grandiosity’ makes that realisation difficult.
The supporting cast in People, Places & Things is as stimulating as Gough. In a trio of roles fraught with emotional underpinnings, Barbara Marten has the challenging task of playing not only Emma’s mum, but also her doctor and therapist. There’s a humorous moment when Emma snidely observes ‘you all look like my mother’!
Alistair Cope is excellent as Foster, a patient-turned-orderly who’s spent seven years in recovery. In contrast to Emma, his character displays a gentle sensitivity.
And Jacob James Beswick embodies T, a patient with a tenuous grasp on reality. Initially appearing with ‘The End’ scribbled across his bare chest, he advises Emma to ‘never surrender’ before he’s tranquilised and carried away.
The staging of People, Places & Things offers plenty of surprises too. Settings morph in mind-boggling ways. For example, the reception desk at the detox facility rises from the floor. Boxes that form walls suddenly pull apart and shift into new spots for other scenes. Plus, the bedroom from Emma’s family home falls from the ceiling.
This can be disorienting – especially when you factor in flashing lights and loud, unsettling sounds. You may start to think you’re on something!
Edgy, hilarious and heart-rending, People, Places & Things is like a drug in that it manages to take you to highs and lows beyond any imagining. Oh, and there’s no recovery… your mind will be hooked on this play long after you leave the theatre.
Check out the trailer below: