About Time You Saw: People, Places & ThingsBy Angelica Malin
People, Places & Things is a new play at the National Theatre, written by Duncan Macmillan, who is no stranger to confronting deep-rooted societal issues theatrically.
Previous plays examined parenthood (Lungs), depression (Every Brilliant Thing) and climate change (2071) so it makes sense that he would eventually examine addiction and the challenges posed in recovery.
Denise Gough plays Emma, an actress forced to confront her addiction troubles unwillingly, when they interfere with her part in The Seagull, breaking nearly more than the fourth wall. An inventive montage rapidly transports us through her addiction, punctuated by ravers, colours and strange stage managers in her present, soundtracked by thumping hard-house mashing together to deliver her to the reception of a rehab clinic.
It’s hard to take too much offence to Emma, she quicker then a bullet train when it comes to finding humour from her situation and lambasting the status immediately placed on those in need of “help”. Her articulate case against the religious premise of the twelve steps rehab programme is compelling, “I won’t build my recovery on the basis of surrounding myself to a higher power” combined with the heartfelt case as to why acting itself causes such extreme highs, lows and emotional turmoil that needs remedy, we can almost fully empathise with her justification for the need for mood enhancing substances
Yet beneath her coherent arguments accepting the need for help and actually using the support network becomes critically important as things slide from desperate to almost fatal. Perhaps it’s her connection with Mark expertly balanced by (Nathaniel Martello-White), which is the most hopeful presence in her recovery attempts, helping her to accept the unavoidable vulnerability the situation requires.
The overall strength of play beyond the pitch perfect performances comes from the writer’s sheer ability to present the different angles of addiction and recovery without fetishising the causes and struggles, whilst avoiding the cliches that often occur when presenting addiction dramatically. Objectivity and subjectivity are given the space they need to place the play in a factual, realistic context, which never loses our interest for a second nor ever dogmatic.
It’s worth also mentioning, quite how striking the production design is, especially in key moments such as the instant transformation that occurs to represent the havoc in Emma’s mind when cold turkey is at it’s strongest; digital projections are the perfect tool to convey the questionability of visions to the audiences onlooking sober eye.
Without reeling off the whole play text, I’ll leave it at that, it’s best summed up by the playwrite’s own intention as a creator, to be “incredibly direct & incredibly interventionist”
The run is sold out but there is a slight chance to snap up a handful of seats every Friday online from 1pm. I suggest you take an early lunch break and press refresh constanly until you’ve purchased your golden ticket.
Since this article went to print it has been transferred to the Wyndham Theatre. For another viewing opportunity book your tickets here.