Review: People, Places & Things

People, Places & Things is an intense 2 ½ hour tumble through a world of addiction, depression and atonement, chasing broken actor Emma (or is it Sarah? Or Nina?) as she tries to navigate today’s instability and chaos. Following a sold-out season at the National Theatre and extended season on London’s West End, People, Places & Things continues with a UK and New York transfer with a brand new cast. Stepping in to some intimidating, Denise Gough sized shoes, Lisa Dwyer Hogg heads up the energetic cast.  The tour is a four ways co-production between Headlong Theatre Company, the National Theatre, HOME Manchester, and, yours truly, the Exeter Northcott Theatre.

Written by Duncan Macmillan (Lungs, 1984) and first performed to critical-acclaim in 2015, the script has evolved even in such a short space of time to include nuclear war, Brexit and Trump amongst a volley of provocative statements about post-modern truth and belonging. The fast-paced and acerbic quick wit of Macmillan is exhausting and at close of curtain the minute delay in applause was the product of astonishment at the journey made by, not only Emma, but all the characters making up the show. It is not outlandish to think that almost every member of the audience has known addiction in their lives, and the fallout from the devastation it causes. Alas, fear not ye who are not morbidly-inclined. Macmillan’s writing provides frequent moments of humour that rendered many a laugh from the Northcott’s audience, injecting some lightness into the intensity and both breaks up and increases moments of powerful gravitas.

The traverse staging, an exact replica of the previous run, is dressed with the clinical, minimal set of a rehabilitation centre, with everything from bedrooms and bathrooms to nightclubs rolled out from the wings (and from on-high) with meticulous smoothness. The metatheatre of set focuses attention on Emma’s inner turmoil – dredging up questions of who she is, especially in relation to her vocation as an actor. In occupying so many other people’s lives, she begins losing hold of who she really is reflected in her constant appropriating of lines from Foucault, Shakespeare, and Chekhov.



The set was designed by the ingenious Bunny Christie, whose The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-Time design won her three prestigious awards on the West End and Broadway (Laurence Olivier, Tony, Outer Critics Circle). The collaboration of Christie with James Farncombe, Matthew Herbert, Tom Gibbons and Andrzej Goulding designing the lighting, music, sound and video/projection respectively, is where the magic really happens. Collectively, they give insight into the mind of an addict at various stages of weakness and recovery – we experience, as Emma does, tiles flying out of the wall and crumbling upwards, multiple hallucinatory Emma’s writhing and running, and finally the return to childhood in the hope of redemption.

Lisa Dwyer Hogg shone as the out-of-control lead, and it is a marvel to think that she’ll be repeating the role in eight different venues over two months in over thirty performances. Dwyer Hogg’s conviction as Emma leads to questions about her preparation for the part: does she have real-life experience of addiction in any capacity? Did that help her get into a mind set with such intensity? What was the rehearsal process? Having said that, the only negative aspect of the People, Places & Things tour is the shadow cast over it by the reputation of Denise Gough in the same role – it is going to be long run if audiences are to compare the two as Emma, but one that might be unavoidable given the latter’s prestige.



The rest of the cast gave high energy performances with Matilda Ziegler taking a dynamic turn as Doctor/Therapist/Mum, giving each a clear but nuanced personality. Ziegler provides the play with both a calming centre of sanity around which to revolve as Doctor/Therapist and also one of many catalysts with which Emma reacts as Mum. Shaun played by Michael Balogun also gave good performance as a reformed alcoholic. It is a testament to Macmillan’s writing that he does not become Emma’s love interest and/or saviour but rather leaves her to be a force unto herself, an excellent female lead left unfettered by romantic relationships.


Emily Earp


To see where People, Places & Things is heading next, click this link:


ALL PHOTOGRAPHS FROM: Credit: Johan Persson, 2017.

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