Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things is now playing at Trafalgar Theatre. An original co-production from London’s National Theatre and Headlong Theatre. 

We open with a scene from The Seagull and we close with an audition but this isn’t theatre about theatre this is all about addiction. The need to soften the reality of the harsh world, the comfort found in unhealthy cycles and the behaviour that makes someone an addict rather than the drug itself. 

Whilst unapologetic Macmillan’s play also plays against stereotypical tropes that society places on addicts. We follow a nervous Emma, as she arrives at rehab and works her way through a merciless programme. We watch rehab unfold with group sessions, role-playing, breakdowns and we watch Emma’s resistance to vulnerability. The therapist isn’t sure if she’s telling the truth, the other patients aren’t sure if she’s telling the truth and neither is the audience. Emma is scared to reveal who she really is, right down to her own name and what she does. Duncan Macmillan’s play is a blistering journey into a taboo subject whilst drawing clever parallels between our addicted protagonist and a gruelling career in theatre. 

The narrative leaps in time, highlighting the confusing and frightening world of addiction. One moment we’re in group therapy and the next Emma is hallucinating with clone versions of herself in her room. The movement direction from Polly Bennett feels psychedelic to watch. 

Sinéad Cusack plays Emma’s doctor as well as her therapist and mother. A clever portrayal of how Emma experiences the female figures in her life. The ensemble of other patients bring humility and kindness to the story. Malachi Kirby delivers a stand-out performance as Mark. A patient who has returned to rehab several times, who pushes Emma into uncomfortable places to help her recovery. We also see a confident stage debut from Ay?? Owóy?mi-Peters. 

Denise Gough is sensational. Originally winning the 2016 Leading Actress Olivier for this role, we get to see why. Her performance is breathtaking, glueing the play together as she propels us from scene to scene. Her portrayal of Emma captures the delusion, the self-disgust and the skepticism of recovery with an honesty we rarely get to see on stage. 

The white tiled set by Bunny Christie feels sterile, with a wonderful opportunity for audience members to sit on stage with the action. Tom Gibbons's sound design is disconcerting and shakes you in your seat. The play feels out of this world and yet we’re in it. 

People, Places & Things is a necessary, powerful piece of theatre. It highlights the unspoken burden of walking in society whilst battling lifelong addictions. It gives power to the people it’s about and makes for an unmissable experience.


It runs until 10 August. Tickets: here.


Review: Nicole Botha     Photo: Marc Brenner