The cast of People, Places & Things in the West End. © Marc Brenner

People, Places & Things by Duncan Macmillan at Trafalgar Theatre

It was one of the biggest theatre hits of 2015, firmly placing Denise Gough on the map and earning her the coveted Olivier Award for Best Actress among other plaudits. Now after almost a decade, Gough returns to the role alongside original director Jeremy Herrin. The much-anticipated revival of People, Places & Things plays at Trafalgar Theatre for a limited run and pleasingly remains just as powerful.

Denise Gough as Emma and the cast in People, Places & Things in the West End. © Marc Brenner.
Denise Gough as Emma and the cast in People, Places & Things in the West End. © Marc Brenner.

Those who experienced the original run will no doubt still recall the impact of this multisensory production. Bunny Christie’s white tiled set feels cold and clinical. James Farncombe illuminates the stage in bright light before plunging us into darkness as we are pulled into the depths of addiction and all that comes with it. Tom Gibbons injects loud bursts of sound, jolting the audience out of their comfort zones. It becomes immediately clear that we are in for quite the ride!

The play centres on actress Emma who is in a rehab facility to tackle major drug and alcohol addiction. She wants to get back to work but she has a lot of work to do on herself for this to happen. We witness her tumultuous journey through a 12-step programme as she is forced to confront her demons and question who she really is. Along the way, it becomes increasingly apparent that Emma struggles to distinguish between reality and fantasy. In turn, we are kept on our toes as we try to determine fact from fiction. Just who is Emma really and why is she the way she is?

Thanks to writer Duncan Macmillan’s razor-sharp script and the stellar central performance, we are kept in constant enthrallment despite the frankly harrowing material. Humour is employed very well here both through the dialogue and Gough’s performance, with the performer’s physicality also adding further layers to an already rich and busy show. Her depiction of withdrawal is startling, her drunken moments utterly convincing.

Crucially we also get to see Emma’s positive traits brimming beneath the surface and in certain moments of vulnerability. This is an intelligent, humorous person who has fallen into the abyss. Yes, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion at times, but Emma’s character is so richly drawn and Gough so magnetic that we can’t help but root for her.

There is strong support from Sinéad Cusack who portrays a Doctor, Therapist and Emma’s mum, with the performer seamlessly transitioning between her roles. She and Gough complement each other well. Malachi Kirby offers a memorable turn as a patient who has succumbed to relapse. The remaining cast and ensemble invest their all into making the production a unique visual spectacle.

Urgent, unsettling and entirely memorable, People, Places & Things remains a crucial piece of theatre that shines a light on one of the darkest aspects of humanity. Believe the hype.

5 Stars

Review by Jonathan Marshall

Emma was having the time of her life. Now she’s in rehab. Her first step is to admit that she has a problem. But the problem isn’t with Emma, it’s with everything else. She needs to tell the truth. But she’s smart enough to know that there’s no such thing. When intoxication feels like the only way to survive the modern world, how can she ever sober up?

Trafalgar Theatre
14 Whitehall, London, Greater London, United Kingdom, SW1A 2DY

Book London Theatre Tickets

Similar Posts