In days of yore we would go to see practically anything at the National Theatre, even at the Dorfman (née Cottesloe), but we are getting more risk-averse as we grow older, so this becomes the fourth in our series of hoovering up the shows we’d missed first time around.
People, Places & Things comes with breathless rave reviews for Denise Gough, a recent Olivier gong for her and another for the Sound Design, whispers of a Broadway transfer, plus a title that has not only punctuation, but an ampersand, which could only raise our expectations to such absurdly vertiginous heights it could only prove a let down, couldn’t it?
So, Phil fixed the straw-drawing (rolled up bank notes of course) to leave Andrew with the shorter one, designating him to arrive at the crack of dawn, beat the expected rush after the awards and wait for £25 centre front row day seats.
We first encounter Gough intoxicated by drugs, alcohol and possibly the ecstasy of her critical acclaim. She’s Emma, a self-medicating actress who’d be more at home in Walter White’s caravan than slurring her way through the role of Nina in The Seagull. It’s an attention-grabbing opening following a nice twist on the turn-off-your-phones announcement and surprisingly funny.
We are, or Emma is, quickly transported to a rehab clinic where she/we spend most of the rest of play as she attempts to get her life back on course. Sounds like a gruelling drear-fest doesn’t it?
But Duncan Macmillan‘s play is much more amusing than it sounds on paper. We even snorted with laughter a few times. Our heroin(e) is a deceitful, thieving liar who struggles to separate reality from role-playing, has messed up the lives of those around her, believes herself to be smarter than those trying to help her and could be a total pain in the arse more in need of a smack than smack itself. The most extraordinary thing about Gough’s remarkable performance is that she somehow gets us to be on Emma’s side. Though, of course, the moment she elicited most sympathy from us was when she’s forced to attend an alcohol-free party. Poor thing.
Congratulations to the Olivier Awards for correcting the injustice done by Whats On Stage and the Evening Standard who picked the starrier name, Nicole Kidman, over Gough.
Jeremy Herrin‘s busy production could do with a mild trim in the group therapy scenes and has shades of The Father as it attempts to discombobulate us by taking us inside the head of the lead character with some tricksy bits of staging including projected tiles peeling from Bunny Christie’s clinically white-tiled set and multiple Emmas crawling out of the walls and her bed. It really shouldn’t work. Somehow it does.
Normally we’d turn our noses up at seeing some of the audience sitting on stage facing us but this proved hardly distracting at all, though it didn’t stop Andrew moaning about one on-stage punter who stuck her fingers in her ears everytime Tom Gibbons’s award-winning sound design blared out.
But apart from Emma’s therapist (Barbara Marten) none of the other characters are called upon do too much other than orbit around Emma’s character. It’s all about the actress really, which may be deliberate given her self-obsession.
Obviously we would never blow the ending, but Phil found himself both satisfied by, and admiring of, its concluding two scenes. Clever.
The audience went bananas at the end and rose to give her a big O. How nice to be in the front row and not have to bother, though Phil felt a bit of a Charlie staying seated. For once it was well-deserved.
Strangely enough we wizzed home straight afterwards, didn’t go for a drink, not even a coke, though we will admit to a restrained bout of self-medicating beforehand.
There could only be one rating really. We’re not sure if it’s appropriate or wildly inappropriate really….