Review: People, Places and Things at Nuffield Southampton Theatres

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Engrossing

This is as engrossing as it gets. With an absolutely stellar cast, excellent direction and an incredible script, People, Places and Things is amazing.

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Touring the UK after a sold-out season at the National Theatre and in London’s West End, People, Places and Things has arrived in Southampton at the Nuffield Theatre. It’s a story of addiction, isolation and self-examination, with the majority of the production taking place in an urban rehab clinic.

It begins with failing actress Emma (or was it Sarah?) admitting herself into rehab after years of self-medicating with alcohol and hard drugs. She’s resistant to confront her inner demons when surrounded by clinical doctors, therapists and other patients. Duncan Macmillan’s script has been massively praised for its depiction of addiction, and it’s easy to see why; not only are Emma’s withdrawal symptoms masterfully portrayed, it’s really a play about introspection and self-assessment.

However, Macmillan’s engrossing script could only take People, Places and Things so far, and it relied on a convincing cast to deliver it. Lisa Dwyer Hogg excelled as Emma and delivered a flawless performance throughout the 2½ hour runtime. There wasn’t a single scene where she wasn’t onstage, so it’s incredible how consistently impressive her performance was. Without such a talented lead, the character of Emma might have come across as obnoxious, but Hogg brought charm and nuance to the role so that even when Emma was calling her mother a c**t over the phone, she remained a likeable protagonist.

Andrew Sheridan’s Mark stands out as the sole other patient developed beyond a vague backstory. He’s a great counter to Emma’s cynicism throughout the play, with Mark experiencing the revelation that our lead’s pride forces her to reject. Matilda Ziegler also stands out as an asset to the show, especially since she plays multiple authority figures throughout the play. I’d be scolded for not mentioning Ekow Quartey’s excellent performance as a former addict turned care worker.

Staging was another one of the show’s strengths, with director Jeremy Herrin making use of the entire stage to tell Emma’s story. It’s easy to criticise the show’s limited set design, but the cold and sterile tiled walls surrounding the entire stage perfectly captured the isolation and emptiness of rehab. Transitions were handled masterfully and were probably the most creative aspect of the show. Each represented Emma blacking out and coming round again, with Herrin using a creative mixture of lighting, sound and visual techniques to simulate this. The best of these has multiple versions of Emma running around the stage as they subtly prepare the stage for the next scene.

I’ve never been as engrossed in a theatre production as I was watching People, Places and Things. The 2½ hour runtime flew by and only left me wanting more. If you’ve got a chance to see it, I highly suggest you do.

People, Places and Things is with Nuffield Southampton Theatres from November 7th to the 11th. 

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