Once in a while a piece of theatre comes along that’s so riveting you almost forget to breathe while watching it. An event destined to become one of those “I was there” moments.
Such is the case with Duncan Macmillan’s uncompromising examination of addiction, featuring a mesmerising performance by Denise Gough, that has transferred to the West End following a sold-out run at the National.
Gough stars as Emma, an actress who checks herself into rehab after her life becomes blighted by abuse of alcohol and practically every drug you can name. But despite being there voluntarily, Emma isn’t ready to fall in line with the clinic’s rules or passively embrace the detox programme, and so confrontation with therapists and her fellow addicts becomes inevitable.
Denise Gough, Kevin McMonagle and Nathaniel Martello-White
Addicts are liars. They lie to themselves about their addiction, and they lie to those close to them. Such is the case with Emma who, through lack of self-discipline, bloody mindedness or a chemically induced tenuous grip on reality, invents scenarios that may or may not be true — and a lot of the time she’s not sure herself.
A young woman strung out on drugs and booze hardly sounds the stuff of comedy gold, but Macmillan’s script finds humour in the most desperate situations. That said, the scenes where Emma goes cold turkey are a mix of the blackly comic and downright harrowing. Gough, who is on stage throughout, carries it off with aplomb and takes the audience on a rollercoaster of comedy and heartbreaking tragedy.
It’s all superbly marshalled by director Jeremy Herrin, who along with designer Bunny Christie and movement coach Polly Bennett, seamlessly blends the hallucinatory and real worlds that Emma inhabits.
Fine support comes from Nathaniel Martello-White as fellow inmate Mark, and Barbara Marten in a trio of roles as doctor, therapist and Emma’s mum. But this is Gough’s show and the raw energy of her performance lingers long in the memory.
People, Places and Things is at Wyndham’s Theatre until 18th June