I have been procrastinating all week over writing my thoughts on People, Places and Things, mostly because of a floundering over words as when a production is THIS spectacularly good, you want to do it some sort of justice. However thankfully with the enormous success at the Oliviers last weekend, they have in part done my job for me, gushing over Headlong’s staggering production.
Star Denise Gough took home the award for Best Actress and the praise for her role as Emma has been unanimously celebratory and it’s not hard to see why. Emma is a young actress battling with addiction to drink and drugs, but as she turns up for a stint in rehab (after one final hit for courage) her biggest obstacle on the road to recovery is being able to feel comfortable with herself.
She has a wilfulness and a confidence, far too intelligent to be brainwashed by a step-programme of ‘finding yourself’ as that’s the last thing Emma wants. She seeks truth and honesty and stuffs handfuls of pills and powders washed down with booze as a means of self-medicating, to fuzz out reality of an overcrowded world.
This is captured spectacularly by Tom Gibbons’ disorientating soundtrack. The overwhelming roar of Emma’s come down is almost unbearable to listen to, there’s an intensity that leaves you in a permanent state of suspense and as the crawling Emma’s creep out from the walls and from under the bed, you gain a real sense of the debilitation of addiction.
Director Jeremy Herrin has really created a production that smacks you hard in the face, teamed with Duncan Macmillan’s acutely eloquent writing. It isn’t until a couple of days later that you realise how affected you feel. Recovery isn’t easy, it’s painful, heart-breaking and the true force of the impact lies in the plays poignant ending. It’s a powerful one.
Carrying the show is of course Denise Gough, whose natural talent is astounding. She has the audience firmly in her hands from start to finish with no attempt of ever letting you go. It must be hard to be mates with someone who is frequently off their face but with wicked humour, Gough brings a charming quality to Emma that makes you really like and empathise with her. There’s an inner strength that shines through and in a weird sort of way made me feel invincible on my bus journey home.
Her performance leaves you in no doubt that you have witnessed a true piece of exceptional theatre, superbly crafted, that will be talked about in years to come. Every now and again theatre makes you sit up and listen, it lingers and leaves a trace on you and that is the real triumph of this astounding production.
(Photo courtesy of Alastair Muir)