Stuart King

Review: PEOPLE, PLACES AND THINGS at Trafalgar Theatre

A disturbed and fragile actress has reached a tipping point in her consumption of alcohol and drugs, and finally takes the bold step to check herself into a rehabilitation facility. Initially unable to comprehend the benefits of group interaction, she challenges everything inherent in the program’s model as she flails at the injustices she perceives in the world, whilst trying to convince herself and others that drugs and addiction offer a dependable antidote to the ubiquitous cruelty manifest in everyday life - most notably for her, the early death of her brother in a traffic accident.

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

Directed by Jeremy Herrin, thehard-hitting recovery and redemption saga by Duncan MacMillan manages to be both hugely funny and brutally tragic and was a sell-out success at the National Theatre in 2016. This much deserved West End revival at the Trafalgar Theatre on Whitehall, benefits from Denise Gough reprising the central role for which she justifiably garnered considerable critical success including an Olivier Award for Best Actress. Thus, those who missed the play’s first airing, now have a second opportunity to immerse themselves in a production which offers nuance and intelligence, lively and fractious arguments, moments of gentle reflection, harrowing admissions and stony refusals to forgive. Helped by sharp and snappy changes to lighting states and sound, the tightly choreographed cast move the scenes along at a lick, maintaining the over all pace. Gough, whose central journey as Emma requires her to remain on stage for almost the entire show, is on dazzling form and receives rock solid support from Sinéad Cusack as both the clinic’s doctor and therapist (and later in the penultimate scene as Emma’s mother), and Malachi Kirby as Mark the insightful inmate who attempts to gently provide Emma with the helpful steers she so desperately needs, but which she resolutely refuses to accept. In truth none of the cast put a foot wrong in their delivery of a cross-section of life’s misfits each learning to support, hear and encourage each other, as they undergo treatment.