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People, Places and Things review at Home, Manchester – ‘gains new resonances’

People, Places and Things. Photo: Johan Persson People, Places and Things. Photo: Johan Persson

It’s funny how plays morph over time. Aside from the new cast, Headlong’s touring production of People, Places and Things is pretty much a carbon copy of the original staging. Since it premiered in 2015, though, the world has changed. And the show has changed with it.

In Duncan Macmillan’s play, self-destructive actress Emma – or is it Nina? or Sarah? – justifies her alcohol and drug addictions with a nod to the world. Surrounded by constant misery and injustice, she argues, oblivion is the only sane choice.

Today, in a world that feels more fearful by the minute, her words have a sharpened impact. Macmillan has added references to Brexit and North Korea, but really they’re superfluous. Who hasn’t wanted to self-medicate during the past eighteen months?

People, Places and Things, though, exposes the ugly depths of addiction. As Emma checks herself into rehab, she swirls further and further inwards, surrounded by eerie duplicate selves. Lights flicker and sound distorts as her grip on reality glitches.

Jeremy Herrin’s production, co-directed here with Holly Race Roughan, plunges us into the disorientation of addiction and withdrawal, while always retaining the protagonist’s acute sense of theatricality.

This version is, inevitably, haunted by Denise Gough. Her astonishing turn as Emma is not easily forgotten, despite the best efforts of Lisa Dwyer Hogg. There’s not quite the same crackle, the same trembling, dangerous thrill. But People, Places and Things was always about more than a magnetic central performance, and it stands up to scrutiny with a new cast.

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Duncan Macmillan’s play gains new resonances but can’t quite shake the memory of Denise Gough