People, Places and Things at the National
Every so often there comes a play that isn’t a theatrical performance as much as it is a spellbinding window into someone’s reality. People, Places and Things is one such play: a dark, gritty, brutally honest exploration of one lady’s battle with alcohol and drug addiction.
Emma (Denise Gough) arrives to check into rehab having fortified her resolve with wine, gin, benzos, speed, ibuprofen and half a gram of cocaine. She lights a cigarette in reception and waits nervously to be admitted. What follows is a penetrating portrayal of her physically, mentally and emotionally agonising detox, her faltering grasp on reality, her desperate refusal to accept any defect in herself and her even more challenging effort to surrender completely to her therapy.
It may not be the most uplifting show around and, for those looking for some light entertainment after a hectic week, this certainly isn’t the one to watch. However, this play shows a rare sincerity that is heart-wrenchingly beautiful to experience and exudes a rawness that strikes a deep chord, which reverberates long after the performance ends.
The production itself is a perfect example of staging, writing and performance working together in spectacular synchrony. Emma’s state of mind speaks brilliantly through the combination of a dynamic stage, strobe lighting, pulsating electronic rhythms and, of course, Gough’s wonderful performance. These, in addition to various other subtleties, allow the audience not just to see and hear, but to fully immerse themselves in Emma’s condition, feeling the very fibres of her reality fraying as she travels through the darkest paths of her journey.
Denise Gough’s performance is a vortex that pulls an unblinking audience into Emma’s struggle. It is testament to her skill and the regard she shows her character that the audience cannot help but feel a painful sympathy for someone so cynical, uncooperative and obstinately self-destructive. Likewise, the script, by Duncan Macmillan, shows true sensitivity to the characters and their circumstances, whilst maintaining an unforgiving honesty that has the audience hooked into the action with nail-biting.
It is meaningless to look for fault in something so genuine, and Emma’s plight, though extreme, is something that all audiences can identify with to a certain extent. Her desperate search for meaning, her obsession with finding something concrete and her unwillingness to yield to a world of “purposeless chaos” are all driving forces behind her addiction. It is heavy watching and though it is unlikely viewers will skip home across South Bank, they will leave enriched, having experienced something powerful.
People, Places and Things is on at the National Theatre from 2nd September until 4th November, for further information or to book visit here.