The National Theatre’s critically acclaimed People, Places and Things has embarked on a UK tour sustaining the same gritty themes of addiction, mental health and self-destruction with a fresh new cast. Enhanced by the powerful staging and electric transitions, we as an audience are completely absorbed into lead character Emma’s explosive mind as it catapults out of control.
Throughout the play there is a surreal sense of disorientation and this is projected through the use of staging. With white tiled walls and floor resembling a heightened clinical environment, we are taken on a journey from Emma’s perspective in the production as she checks herself into rehab. During a career as an actor and an abundance of experience with broken relationships, Emma turned to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain, spiraling her into a dark place.
After Denise Gough’s exceptional performance as Emma in the West End, Lisa Dwyer Hogg revives the role for the UK tour with an emotionally charged performance that strips the character bare. Emma is on a slippery slope when she enters rehab and whilst sometimes she appears stable, her instant outbreaks expose her lack of stability. Dwyer Hogg depicts the character’s intelligence with her direct approach to the role and she delivers the dialogue naturally.
Her interactions with the therapist (Matilda Ziegler) who she likens to her mother proves how switched on as an individual Emma is, as she dissects the therapists’ information and doesn’t let her barrier down, believing she is too smart for the 12 step program. She takes control of every situation and that is what slowly breaks her down. Dwyer Hogg performs with an intensity and manages to strike the perfect balance between the two sides of her character, capturing both her overconfidence and the raw honesty of her vulnerability. She spends her life pretending to be other people and losing herself in that, struggling with the stark reality of figuring out who she really is.
During the play there is a thin line between the truth and lies, Emma is an actor and uses that as her advantage during her treatment as she gives a monologue about her life and then claims she made it up. This creates a sense of ambiguity within the performance, hooking the audience from her very first word to the final bow.
Playwright Duncan Macmillan’s dialogue is quick, witty and contemporary as it touches on universal modern themes. Emma is erupting in the first half and she spends most of it completely off the walls, but in the second half Macmillan unpicks her layers and we discover the context to her character and the backstory of who she was. Macmillan writes the smaller characters into the piece less, which is understandable as the sole focus is on Emma, however, she manages to ignite a friendship with Mark played by Andrew Sheridan who is straight-forward, honest and relatable and his initial confrontation towards Emma manages to bring her back down to earth. Despite the heaviness of the topic, Macmillan brings light to the piece with Emma’s sarcastic humour and the character of medical staff Foster played by Erow Quarterly.
It’s a powerful production that resonates with modern life, Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s commitment to the role is revolutionary as she throws herself into all the emotions to create a masterclass performance. The language is relevant, the dialogue is tight and the staging is entirely consuming.
People, Places and Things is on at HOME in Manchester until the 7th of October and tickets can be found here.