Thursday 16 May 2024

People, Places & Things - Review

Trafalgar Theatre, London


Written by Duncan Macmillan
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Denise Gough

The titular people, places and things are those that a recovering addict should steer clear of on their post-rehab journey if they are to maximise their chances of avoiding relapse. Duncan Macmillan’s play for the most part explores the journey in rehab as Emma, an actress, played by Denise Gough first has to acknowledge her addiction to alcohol and substances, before undergoing the clinical process of breaking her addictions.

Gough’s performance is stellar, her 2016 Olivier Award clearly justified in a brilliant interpretation of agony and human dereliction. On stage throughout and aided by Bunny Christie’s ingenious set designs and a talented company we witness the hallucinogenic nightmares and pain of Emma’s addiction, before a nirvana-esque second act that sees her receptive to group therapy and her ultimate return to her parents’ home. 

The production is as uncomfortable to watch as it is brilliant. There is a macabre credibility to Jeremy Herrin’s direction of this revived production that chills in its depiction of Emma’s agonies during her therapy followed by a tragic endgame that explores the impact of her addiction on her parents, who with Emma grieve their son and her brother. This nutshell glimpse of the impact of bereavement and familial resentments is acutely perceptive, recognisable and heartbreaking.

Sinead Cusack offers a masterclass in supporting acting, delivering a memorable double-act over the course of the evening, firstly as the clinician/therapist leading Emma’s recovery and then later as her deeply damaged mother.

Gough has taken her Emma from the National Theatre, to the West End, to Broadway and now returned to London. She is magnificent - and for those that can handle her interpretation of human suffering, People, Places & Things is unmissable.

Runs until 10th August
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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