Today I finally got to see Headlong’s production of People, Places & Things. It was a real case of being late to the party with this one (as it closes in just over two weeks). I really wanted to see it at the National Theatre’s Dorfman, as the small auditorium really adds to the impact of its productions. I still remember seeing London Road there (when it was called The Cottesloe) twice in 2011 and being astounded by the intimacy of the space. However, this afternoon, for People, Places & Things I was lucky enough to get one of the seats on stage which meant that, despite being in a larger venue, I was still able to marvel at all of the intricacies of the production.
The play focuses on Denise Gough’s character Lucy (or is that Nina, Emma or Sarah?), who is checked in to a rehab clinic to help her battle her addiction to drugs and alcohol. She is evasive and unresponsive to the help offered, and she, right until the end, denies the staff, the other patients and the audience the knowledge of her true identity. Whilst in the clinic she quotes postmodern theorists, so it seems fitting that our protagonist projects a ‘myriad of plural selves’ throughout the play. This plurality had the strange quality of both distancing her from and endearing her to the audience. We learn that she previously worked as an actor and she depicted the inherent loneliness of constantly living as someone else. After a failed attempt at rehabilitation in the first act, the second was more positive and upbeat until the climax in which the reunion with her parents was shockingly poignant. Through learning about Lucy’s life from her mother the audience was afforded a brief glimpse of how addiction affects families, not just the patients themselves.
Headlong’s production was slick and inventive. The white box set was harsh and clinical and totally matched the atmosphere of the play. The sets manoeuvred at lightning quick speed and the staging was highly imaginative. The emergence of copies of Lucy from her bed and the floor was totally unexpected; it illuminated the apparent distortion of her mind. So much has been written about Denise Gough’s performance that it’s hard to know what to add. Being so close to her on stage was something I will remember for many years to come. Whilst postmodernism seeks to distance itself from knowable, functional truths, truthful and honest, for me, totally sums up the performance. She played defiant, difficult and reckless with brute force. The response of the other characters to her ruining her fellow patient’s graduation demonstrated how aggravating she could be, yet she still managed to evoke deep sympathy from the audience. The second act was, I felt, where she really excelled. Her softness, subtlety and fragility when she finally decides to role play during the therapy sessions with the other patients was heart-wrenching.
The one negative point about this play is that it is only on for approximately two more weeks. I would love the chance to see it again, as I am sure I would definitely notice things that I didn’t on my first viewing. The hype surrounding People, Places & Things is truly deserved. The standing ovation of the full house (on a Thursday afternoon!) at The Wyndham’s Theatre really does signal what a stunning play this is.