Review – People, Places and Things

Jacqui Dubois, Denise Gough and Sally George in People, Places and Things at the Dorfman, National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

People, Places and Things
Headlong Theatre
The Dorfman Theatre, Stage Door Avenue, London
Written by: Duncan Macmillan
Directed by: Jeremy Herrin


Reviewer: Laura Shoebottom

You know it’s a winner when you’re crying one minute and laughing the next. People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan shows human relationships in their rawest form. The characters needs and desperations are at the forefront of the action leaving the audience totally captivated. The combination of cast and crew along with some truly stunning writing makes the show the incredible success it is. 

Denise Gough plays the part of actress and drug addict Emma who has checked herself into rehab. Gough has about ninety percent of the dialogue and there is not a moment where she slips out of character. The audience gets a sense of Emma’s scepticism but also her vulnerability. This becomes clear in the group therapy session where she finally starts being honest during an exercise – something she has had a massive problem with before. Gough plays mainly opposite Barbara Marten who takes on three challenging roles in this production and executes them perfectly. We see her first as a doctor, then as a therapist and finally as Emma’s mother. The change from one character to another is extremely clear. The biggest transformation is from the doctor to Emma’s bitter mother at the end of the play. After all Emma’s struggles she smacks down what she believes to be her latest “fad” totally demoralising her. It is a very interesting use of double casting – the two roles could not be further from each other but both are equally as detailed which makes the performance extremely engaging.

The cast are accompanied by a multi-use, part suspended set designed by Bunny Christie. The set seems to extend beyond the stage, totally submerged us in the world of the characters. It’s outward appearance is very sterile and almost harsh to look at. This creates the effect of the characters; particularly Emma, being in limbo. Every part of the set is used to its fullest.

Video projection is incorporated in the form of a peeling wall effect during one of Emma’s blackouts in the clinic. Loud and intense music alongside it instigates a sense that Emma is trapped inside her own head and can’t hear anything. The use of theatre in the round for this production allows the audience to sense how trapped Emma feels from the moment she arrives at the clinic. It follows the theme of the play well and its subtlety has a massive effect on the audience. 

A clever and all-encompassing show. There is a lot going on but at no point is it disjointed or unbelievable – it’s a heartbreaking emotional struggle that is written and performed beautifully.

Runs until 4th November 2015 at the Dorfman Theatre, National Theatre.