It is very hard to see something that has received so much hype. You cannot go in without expectations and expectations raised by hype are not always fulfilled. That is not to say that Duncan Macmillan’s powerful ‘People, Places and Things’ is not a tremendous piece of theatre. Dramatically, narratively, and visually this was exceptional and the performances from Denise Gough, Barbara Marten, Nathaniel Martello-White and the rest of the cast were fantastic.
The title of the play, people, places and things, refers to potential triggers for recovering addicts. Addicts are told to stay away from the people, places and things that remind them of using drugs. Unsurprisingly this is nigh on impossible for an addict. Lucy, an actress, struggles with the injustices of the world and problems in her own life and has turned to drink and drugs to survive. We meet her at the beginning of her first trip to rehab and follow her on her path to some sort of recovery, along which she faces many of the issues and characters a recovering addict meets on the wobbly climb to recovery.
Created by Headlong and the National Theatre, this piece had some impressive moments of staging and technology to bring to life Lucy’s moments of intoxication and withdrawal. Several actresses portrayed her many psychological and physical states on her frantic road to recovery creating powerful images on stage, as some climbed out of walls and others even more ingeniously out of her bed as she endured going cold turkey. The strobe lighting and visual projections also helped reflect the protagonist’s mental and physical states.
Denise Gough has created a career-changing character here in her portrayal of this feisty and troubled heroine, showing us the traumatic and tough path an addict must take in order to recover. The play runs at her pace and she drives it forward with her manic energy derived from her addiction, and slows it down with her pain. She deserves all the credits and accolades for this performance. Barbara Marten supports her in equally impressive style, playing three characters and showing an incredible versatility as her physicist, therapist, and mother. Nathaniel Martello-White turns in a powerful performance as Lucy’s friend, both struggling and then reforming in rehab. A speech he makes about the reasons for which he will go to hell is particularly moving.
We must also congratulate Duncan Macmillan who has written a fantastic play about the issues of addiction and, in a world of limited roles for women, created a fantastic part for a female actress. This is a play that is both funny, moving and startling in equal measure.
Naturally the only downside for us was coming to this some time after it has opened, particularly after all the hype. Then of course we had to deal with West End audiences, some of whom seem to think it’s ok to turn up as a party of six, 15 minutes late, chat, and generally treat the whole thing with less then the desired attention and respect it deserves. Oh well… This was a story that has been told and written about many times, in novels, TV and film, but this was the first time it has been brought to the mainstream theatre world. A brilliant creation by Headlong and the NT, this play was a hit to the system like no other and has made a star out of its lead. We only wish we had seen it at the National Theatre. Nonetheless, cracking theatre from everyone involved!
Highlight of the show – “I’m a seagull.”
‘People, Places and Things’ is running at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 18 June.