People, Places and Things at Wyndham’s Theatre
James Frey’s A Million Tiny Pieces caused a sensation in the literary world, first for a brutally candid and insightful style that created the genre of “rehab memoir”, then for the controversy that dogged its author after it was revealed that much of his supposedly autobiographical story was fabricated. The state of ambiguous flux into which the process of recovery from addiction can pitch virtues such as truth and identity is the subject of Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places and Things, transferring the short distance to the West End proper after an acclaimed run at the National’s Dorfman Theatre.
The play is divided into acts following “Emma” (just one of several monikers Denise Gough’s character hides behind) across two stays at an anonymous recovery clinic, brought vividly to life thanks to some cutting-edge stage design. A section of the audience seated at the rear of the stage means the action is observed from both sides, unfolding in a kind of transparent tank in which the character’s behaviour and interactions can be studied forensically. Through ingenious use of sound, lighting and video effects, the woozy, hallucinatory state of consciousness wrought by Emma’s withdrawal from chemical dependency is rendered within this stark shell. The result is that addiction itself is conjured as an antagonist, climbing walls and knocking over chairs in its battle for survival against the intervening therapeutic forces.
The distinct chapters allow for meaningful development of a protagonist who, on first admission, is cynical and wily, smoking and snorting her way through her induction and challenging her therapists’ authority to the point of expulsion. When she returns, Emma’s deepening personal crisis evokes a palpably bereft portrait of utter desperation. Gough deserves high praise indeed for the deft skill with which she charts this descent, while exuding both a delicate fragility and a raw and powerful primal will to prevail.
Though the barnstorming lead performance comprises the exposed beating heart of the narrative, it is facilitated and elevated by an excellent ensemble and by Jeremy Herrin’s uncompromising direction, which sees each scene targeted squarely at the jugular.
People, Places and Things is on at Wyndham’s Theatre from 15th March until 18th June 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch a teaser trailer for the production here: