People, Places and Things

Theatre, Drama
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 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Denise Gough

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© Johann Persson

Denise Gough (Emma), Nathaniel Martello-White (Mark)

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© Johan Persson

Denise Gough (Emma)

 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Denise Gough (Emma)

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© Johan Persson

Denise Gough (Emma)

 (© Johann Persson)
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© Johann Persson

Denise Gough (Emma), Barbara Marten

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© Johan Persson

Denise Gough, Kevin McMonagle, Nathaniel Martello-White

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© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan Persson

Jacqui Dubois, Denise Gough, Sally George

Denise Gough is stunning in this powerful new play about addiction and reality from '1984' scribe Duncan MacMillan.

Interview: Denise Gough – 'If this had happened when I was 23, I'd be dead'

Before I really get busy with the hyperbole, it may be worth noting that second time around, one of the best things about Denise Gough’s astounding performance in Duncan Macmillan’s addiction drama is how understated it is. 

True, her chronically unreliable addict-actress character Emma spends most of the first half completely off her tits: Headlong and the National Theatre’s transferring hit starts with its heroine slurring her way through the role of Nina in Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’, suddenly staggering into a nightclub, then shambling into rehab (groggily hoovering up a cheeky final line of gak first). It is undeniably pretty funny. 

Yet, for all the initial, broad black comedy and the flourishes lobbed in by director Jeremy Herrin – multiple Emmas erupting out of the walls, floor and furniture as the cold turkey bites – Gough gives a masterclass in nuance and subtlety. It is the best London stage performance since Mark Rylance’s in ‘Jerusalem’, but it’s also the polar opposite of his larger-than-life turn. 

Emma is a self-invented woman trying desperately to be normal, to be honest. She has lost all touch with herself, self-medicating through booze, drugs and pretending to be other people. As she reluctantly enters the drab rehab facility – presided over by Barbara Marten as a doctor and as a therapist, who both seem to be projections of Emma’s mother – she is forced to try and remember who she is. And she doesn’t like it one bit.

It’s a painful process, at first amusingly so: Emma is like a petulant teenager squaring up to the idea of doing household chores for the first time. Self-reflection is excruciating for her: she simply feels she’s too intelligent to swallow the 12-step-alike programme that requires her to surrender to a nebulous higher power. Gough’s face is a remarkable battleground for Emma’s weapons-grade cynicism clashing with her desperate desire to make everything all right again.

It is a titanic performance in a slightly flawed play. The only other cast member who can hold a candle to Gough is Marten, partly because she’s the only other one with a decent role. Macmillan’s writing is notably thinner when it comes to the minor characters in Emma’s therapy group. And it has to be said that some of Herrin’s fancier directorial interventions work better in the NT’s high-tech Dorfman Theatre than at a West End playhouse.

But of course the play is all about Emma, who is at the heart of every scene. And Macmillan can be forgiven the odd moment of glibness for the extraordinary climax in which Emma confronts her mother – Marten, of course – in an agonisingly subversive sequence that laughs bitterly at the idea that rehab and redemption are the same thing. 

‘People Places and Things’ is a play about the seduction of escaping reality, and it is resolutely ambivalent about whether that’s an entirely bad thing (indeed, it acknowledges that as a play it is itself an escape from reality). But what might have felt like a clever-clever script in other hands has been taken over by Denise Gough, a long-term critics’ favourite who must finally, surely be elevated to the stardom she deserves with a performance that burrows into the heart, the guts, the brain, the soul.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

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LiveReviews|32
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1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

This was the best play I’ve seen at the National for a long time. Gripping from beginning to end, emotional and enlightening. Never has the saying ‘the struggle is real’ been so apparent in such an obscure world, and so refreshingly and imaginatively executed in this piece of theatre. Headlong theatre company have done it yet again. The acting, scene changes and all that made the play astounding was done seamlessly. You won’t regret this one!!!

Tom Bruce
1 of 1 found helpful
Tastemaker

Duncan Macmillan is Mackillin it on the West End right now. Between his recent adaptation of Orwell's '1984' and 'People, Places, and Things', his hard hitting dramatisation of drug dependency/recovery, his shows will now and forevermore be the hottest tickets in town. Coming from a person who sees roughly three plays a year, this might not mean much, and quite plausibly there are many more exciting talents who out-do him with ease, but at this moment it feels as though he deserves that praise. So have it, Duncan. Take it! Go on! 


'People, Places, and Things' uses a fantastic range of lighting effects, animations and sound effects to bring you closer to the chaos within the brain of a burnt out addict going through a simultaneous withdrawal of just about every drug there is. Such gimmickry, although very well considered, pales in comparison to the chilling performance given by Denise Gough, who tears herself apart on stage as her character - a miserable failed actress going by a number of names - hits rock bottom, suffers the throes of serious addiction deprived of its drugs, and goes on to address a host of long standing psychological problems. Religion comes into the picture and while it is clear that Macmillan is more of an agnostic himself he deals with the issue respectfully. How he portrayed the Higher Power in the context of the 12-Step recovery program was intriguing and shed light on how relinquishing control in an aspect of your life can actrually help you to control yourself better. Surrendering to the admission of addiction and depression is painful, as Gough demonstrates, but it is only then that the healing can begin,


Bleaker than bleak at times but with an ultimately inspiring message, the play is provoking and gets the blood pumping with its harsh depiction of life inside a 28-day rehabilitation clinic. "This is as real as it gets", as one patient puts it. The audience straddle both ends of the stage inside the National Theatre Dorfman building, with the cast doors either side, so the set changes are mostly done using a collapsible floor and a ceiling stage that lowers onto the base level, which fits in perfectly amid the hallucinatory seizures experienced by our fallen actress protagonist. 'People, Places, and Things' is thoroughly worth going to see, and for anyone with a substance abuse issue (or multiple) it could potentially be a life saver. The standing ovation was well warranted. 


Teodora T
tastemaker

If you watch one play this year, make it this one. It will grab you by the throat after half an hour or so and won't let go. It's by far the most powerful, yet simple story - told through the dramatic experience of a fantastic actress. It will make you teary, it will make you pity her, love her, hate her, and above all - love your life and appreciate all that you are and you have. You might want to call your mum after the end as well. An unforgettable play and a true revelation!

Paula - ToT
tastemaker

I was slightly concerned when going to see this play as the reviews had been fantastic and I doubted whether it could really be that good - well, I was wrong as it really is that good.  Denise Gough is outstanding in the lead role and the rest of the cast is very strong.  On the face of it, this could be a rather depressing play.  However, it’s so beautifully told and with many laughs along the way, that you don’t leave the theatre glum.  A shame the run had to end, but eagerly awaiting the next project involving the director and cast. 

Jboyle14
tastemaker

A really superb play, with impressive staging, lighting and acting. The star of the show is clearly the excellent Denise Gough who deserves all the praise being lavished upon her. The central theme of the story is addiction and the result is something which is challenging, moving, and ultimately inspiring 

Laura B
tastemaker

It's almost gone but this was really an excellent play - if you can get tickets, GO! So intense, but focusing on such an important issue with great imagination and amazing acting. And the staging was very clever - overall summary, I don't want to go to rehab..

Catia S
tastemaker

Terrific play from the beginning to the end. The mundanity of the theme could have led to a disastrous interpretation of  the usual worn-out cliches about drug addiction. On the contrary, in 'People, Places and Things' there is no time to think about those. The pace is fast and furious and you immediately feel dragged into Emma's world  (shall I say addicted?) - you just want to know more about her demons and  find out how her journey ends. From the plot, to the scenarios, to the soundtrack and of course to the outstanding performances (oh, Denise Gough!), everything flows so naturally that you forget that you are actually watching a play. The play ends and you are buzzing and you cannot wait for the next fix.

Chris
Tastemaker

This closes soon but grab a ticket if you can. An extraordinary, intense and moving play with a spellbinding central performance from Denise Gough. We sat on the stage seats and we were inches away from the cast - an experience I won't forget. Well worthy of all the awards it has won.

Elizabeth P
tastemaker

This production captivated me from the first instance.To take such a real and harrowing experience and fill it with humanity and humour is a great achievement. The acting was the most natural I have seen in a while and the simple and clinical set helped to heighten the entrapment and lack of control that addictions bring.I came away feeling truly affected by this play.For those that have their own experiences of addiction there were many comforting points of reference, and for those that haven’t it offered a very honest insight into the challenges it bring.

NatalieO
Tastemaker

Harrowing - that is the most appropriate word for this experience! You truly become part of the experience! I left feeling totally captivated by the play! One to watch!

Nick R

Amazing. Loved it. Everything about the play - from Denise Gough's incredible performance to the lighting and sound design - was breath-taking. It was totally captivating from start to finish and the story line was both enthralling and thought-provoking in every sense. Vivid, stunning drama at it's finest.

Alana R
Tastemaker

Have you ever cried at the theatre? I couldn't say I had. Until I saw the most confronting yet powerful performance by Denise Gough in People, Places, Things. Dealing with the raw emotions of drug and alcohol addiction, this play grips you from start to the gobsmacking penultimate scene to its finish. It delves into the psychology of not only the addict, but the people around them, both others in the rehab centre and loved ones. It also takes an interesting look at the struggle for actors and what they feel during and between shows. By using minimalist scenery with a range of lighting effects, everything about this play hits hard. An emotional journey for all the actors, go on this path with them before it finishes in June.

bext45
Tastemaker

At times this play is so agonising it’s hard to watch. The play centres around Emma who self-medicates through drink and drugs. She’s an actress who veers away from reality in every aspect of her life; when she is acting on stage, not facing up to her family traumas or being off her face on a cocktail of drink and drugs. She self admits herself to a detox and rehab programme. That’s the first step sorted. But she can never face up to the reality of unravelling the real reasons for why she is there.

Denise Gough is extraordinary. Her drunkenness makes you dizzy. Her pain kicks you in the stomach. She lives every part of that role on stage and deserved the Olivier Award she won for Best Actress recently. As a fan of Macmillan’s writing already he written a play with an emotional punch and a few jokes along the way.

Don’t miss this. It’s astonishing. The penultimate scene made time stop. It’s on a limited run. You’ve been warned. 

Bonnie W
Tastemaker

I would definitely recommend not drinking before seeing this hard hitting play. I had two cocktails before the show and was made to feel much more drunk that I actually was by the frenzied opening scenes of Denise Gough's inebriated character! Gough is incredibly convincing as the lead and really draws you in to everything she is going through. The sets are very austere which helps to add a harshness to the situation. Although this is a very heavy play there is the right amount of humour incorporated to lighten things up just enough. I can definitely see why Gough won the Olivier this year for best actress - she pours so much into her character and has a wonderful cast to work alongside.

Garvthefool

Saw this play last month. Terrific with a truly outstanding performance by the actress Denise Gough

GeorgeX
Tastemaker

A must for every theater lover!


Having seen this play already twice, once in National Theatre last year and once in West End playing at the moment, this is for sure the play of the year.


Excellent acting from Denise Gough that trully deserved to be a winner in the 2016 Olivier Awards as best actress. Second Olivier award for this play to Tom Gibbons for his excellent sound design.

If you haven't seen it already, hurry!

Sheens86
Tastemaker

Absolutely extraordinary play, one of the best productions I’ve seen in a long time! Denise Gough is effortlessly brilliant, the supporting cast are also fantastic but considering she is on stage with no respite, she carries the performance admirably.

I sat engrossed for the length of the play, captivated by Ms Gough’s performance and also by the excellence of the production itself. The stage, the scene changes from reality to the hallucinatory were powerfully absorbing!

I cannot recommend this enough without including spoilers, so if you can get your hands on some tickets, GO!

Samantha H

This is an amazing production in every respect. The story is mesmerizing; heart-wrenching and sad, yet hopeful and funny, in parts. Denise Gough's performance is incredible. All the performances are stellar, but Denise is brilliant. The staging is excellent and creative. It's exhausting to watch - I can only imagine how it is to perform it every night.

This show is a must-see.

Rosie T
Staff Writer

An absolute incredible play. The performance by all was brilliant. Denise Gough was absolutely stunning! I found myself captured from the start and the peaks of loudness, lights and fast paste were brilliant to watch followed by the drop to quiet moments and to Emma's rehab experience which flowed really well. There was one part in the middle that I felt dragged slightly but other than that I loved it! Well worth a watch and I highly recommend.

Ben
Tastemaker

Denise Gough gives an absolutely barnstorming performance in the lead role, easily one of the best I've seen on stage. 


Don't expect the bar does well after the show but the play really deserves all the plaudits it's receiving.  I was fortunate enough to get a 'behind the stage' seat (a bargain £15!) which I'd highly recommend, almost overwhelmingly intense.  As with Headlong's previous 1984 and Chimerica, you come out with your brain swimming with ideas and your senses blown - really can't recommend enough.

Carmen
Staff Writer

People Places & Things is a very powerful play about fighting drugs addition and finding your way in the path of life. The main character Emma is played by Denise Gough who delivers an outstanding performance along with the rest of the cast. The staging is very original and includes music, sounds and special effects you would not imagine possible on stage, This is one of the most, if not the most, powerful play I have seen in London recently and it is totally exhilarating! Go watch it while its in town!

Kate C

Absolutely phenomenal. Probably one of the best plays I've seen and an absolute must see. Denise Gough's performance is outstanding, and the rest of the cast follow suit. I cannot praise this production enough and found it to be incredibly innovative and visually stunning as the play combines magnificent performances with marvellous tech to create an all round exceptional production.

The Man on the Street

Simply the best play currently running in The West End. It has made the transfer from The National to The Wyndhams without loosing any of its intensity. Denise Gough in the lead puts mind, body and soul into her challenging role. Its a performance to rank with Rylance in Jerusalem. An Olivier Award winner in my books. If you want to experience that rare magic of perfumer and piece being perfectly matched , go see People , Places and Things. It left me breathless. 

bowertron

this play is truly amazing but if you are going to see it you have to see it with Denise Gough. She is out of his world and going to be a massive star if this performance is anything to go by.

Ray

Just seen the most exhilarating piece of theatre 
People, Places and Things is riveting.
Denise Gough soars in the lead.
This is very, very special
Go !

Jess K

100% the best piece of theatre I have ever seen in my life. I can't put into words how much people should go and see this beautifully written & acted show. JUST GO!

Dave C

If there's such a thing as a strong ensemble piece with a staggering lead performance, this is it - Denise Gough is sensational in the lead role and the play itself is deeply troubling and intelligent. A late scene with Gough's character and her parents, in her childhood bedroom, is one of the most powerful I've seen in a long while.

William w
tastemaker

I saw this play at the National and will add that it is a clever piece of theatre. The stage for me was designed so the audience can look into a glass bowl, like a looking glass and feel uncomfortable at times with what they see. Excellent cast, great lead actress and clever direction. I'm glad I saw it.

Roland H

Not much point in writing a long review as the entire run is sold out, also not much to add to the other reviews here. Superb theatre: snappy script, compelling empathetic characters, good story, brilliantly acted, cleverly staged (designed by the same person who did the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). Makes you gasp, laugh in places, and think about it for some time afterwards. 

John C
tastemaker

A stunning new play, all about adiction, rehab, and family life. This is a really original piece full of startling images, serious and funny.

Denise Goughis terrific. The clever set design is also worth mentioning.You will still be talking & thinking about this show for sometime. 

O. Gordon
Tastemaker

I wanted to give this play 5 stars, I did, but it just couldn't quite get there for me and I don't really know why. 


The set is very well designed with furniture arriving from both above and below to alter environments. Being traverse meant the sink obscured my view quite badly at times but this didn't really intrude on the production. The sound and lighting is entirely suitable for the piece and, although mostly intense, it can be wonderfully subtle. 


The writing is strong and flowing. Lots of little jokes poke their head out at the most absurd times, much like real life although I can't help but feel that the uncomfortableness of a small minority of the audience (due to the content) lent a little bit too much laughter to some lines. 


However, it is the cast and the direction that really help keep this good script good. It would be very easy to play the central character in a way which would dramatically alter the piece for the worse. This interpretation needs to be spot on and Denise Gough is incredible. She gives an amazing performance. The emotional energy required to perform at this level, night after night, is quite simply staggering. She is backed up by an affable Nathaniel Martello-White, a measured Barbara Marten and a beautifully underplayed Kevin McMonagle. They give Gough an added security to perform in which allows these captivating relationships to appear. 


My only real criticism is that the first half felt a little slow. It dragged at certain times and although it does a great job of making you feel as if you are really involved in the situation, sometimes this isn't enjoyable. A very well blocked and performed scene to convey monotony and time passing went on long enough to make me want to stand up and shout 'stop!'. Maybe that's what they wanted...?


I would highly recommend it.