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Review: People, Places and Things, National Theatre


Emma (Denise Gough) is an actress for whom drugs and alcohol have become a bit of a problem and so she goes to rehab. Her aim is to get the 'piece of paper' that says she isn't a risk to employers implying that she's had her arm twisted; certainly her attitude towards rehab doesn't imply someone on a genuine mission to clean up their life.

As she goes through the programme she resists, rants and rails against the world and its problems but you are never sure whether it is the real her, how much she is deflecting. Confiding in fellow resident Mark (Nathaniel Martello-White) she admits she only feels alive when she is performing.

The road to recovery is hard and there is a sense of going round and round in circles. Just as you feel Emma might be making positive steps she retreats back. There are some nice theatrical devices such as multiple 'Emmas' appearing out of her bed when she's hallucinating during detox but it isn't always enough to distract from what is essentially a painstaking and frustrating process.

Emma's take on the world is, as you'd expect, quite bleak and explains her extreme self-medicating. There is an element of black logic in her philosophy on truth but in essence it's her truth, her flawed and self-centred truth. 

She's a fortress in many ways with just the occasional glimpse at the window of something from her past but by the end of the first half when her time at rehab comes to a head you really want her to put up or shut up otherwise it is all going no where. 

The second half sees her back to square one but this time she's different. She's had a bit of an epiphany, the life of substance and alcohol abuse wasn't quite as enticing on returning to it as it might have appeared when sober. We finally get to see her for who she is. It leads up to tense and emotionally wrought confrontation with her parents that is played out with a beautiful and harsh realism - Barbara Marten playing her mother and Kevin McMonagle playing her dad.

At the curtain call Denise Gough was doing double fist pumps and she deserved to feel that happy, capturing the breadth of emotional ugliness of the addict as well as the physical performance. Plaudits too for Nathaniel Martello-White as the gentle, smiling and knowing Mark.

There is lots to like in People, Places and Things but like its characters it has its relapses and episodes that can make it frustrating at times.

You can catch it on the National Theatre's Dorfman stage until Wednesday 4 November, it is written by Duncan Macmillan and is a Headlong production


Barbara Marten played Gertrude to Maxine Peake's Hamlet and Maxine played Mr W's wife in Leaves of Glass.