Theatre review: People Places and Things at the Trafalgar Theatre

People Places and Things is a hard-hitting exploration of addiction from all viewpoints: the addict, the counsellor and the family. I learnt a lot about addiction in general, how it’s a toxic combo of low self-esteem and self-glorification. I suspect every member of the audience did, since we are all harbouring some kind of compulsive behaviour to make life enjoyable. I’m watching the effects of alcohol abuse in a neighbour’s family, how it ravages their trust with its exasperating helplessness, its manipulative narcissism, its fatuous resolutions. Meanwhile the justification for substance abuse is made in a highly intelligent way.

poster People Places and Things at the Trafalgar Theatre

The burning question was how on earth the playwright could make it funny? And he does manage to make it funny sometimes, incredibly. Emma’s on the phone arguing with someone, saying ‘I called you cunt because it’s a cunty thing to say’, and it transpires it’s mum she’s talking to.

The acting is superlative. How Denise Gough has the energy to lurch and writhe and scream and rant through this play night after night is incredible. I was exhausted just watching. Sinead Cusack is a bit too school – marmy as the AA therapy leader:  too many raised eye-brows and disapproving looks. Such a woman needs to be still, steely, unflappable, less clucking, more purring.

The special effects captured Emma’s inner chaos very convincingly as she tried repeatedly to pull away from drug and alcohol abuse. We were assaulted throughout by violent episodes of strobe, black out, ominous booms, deafening music. Her cold turkey hallucinations were depicted creatively with body-multiples and unsettling video effects beamed up on the set walls.

There are reflective moments, such as when a fellow addict reminisces about a youth worker who ‘spoke to me like I was a real person and I felt listened to’. Or when they rehearse speaking to the people they have hurt the most, with a view to making amends when they go back out there. I found I was clenching  my hands under my chin in suspense at the end, only noticing once my body unlocked.

London  Mums’ rating:

5/5 stars, People Places and Things is at the Trafalgar Theatre ’till 10 August 2024.

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