People, Places and Things

People, Places and Things by Duncan Macmillan (Lungs, Every Brilliant Thing) comes to HOME as first stop on the national tour for this National Theatre/Headlong production.  There’s always a risk when a play arrives with such a weight of expectations, especially when it’s been recast to tour.

‘Emma’ is an actress who struggles to engage with the mundane day to day life.  She finds her perfect escape in either acting or drugs/alcohol.  So the play explores the parallels and contradictions between the two forms of escape, and in so doing addresses issues about how we develop techniques to deal with real life.  The problem with Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s Emma is that she exists as either the actress who is putting on the front, or she is the lying, cheating addict.  There’s not enough of who this person is deep down, behind the fronts, who they might be if they could engage with life, there’s not enough vulnerability.  As the layers are peeled back by the text, not enough complexity is revealed in her character.  Perhaps this is how it’s meant to be.  Perhaps she’s so intelligent that she can keep the front up.  But that’s not interesting theatre and having seen Duncan Macmillan’s work before, I don’t think that’s how it’s written..

The structure and visual concept of the play is very reminiscent of another of Headlong’s productions, the Nether; in that case the play goes down the rabbit hole of the internet, here it goes into Emma’s mind.  At certain moments, multiple ‘Emmas’ appear in her clinic room, from her bed, through the walls, or she experiences the hedonism of a club.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing if the form is right for the play, which to some extent it is here.  It’s just that nothing feels very fresh about the play, it feels like a story that has been told before.  Key scenes take place in groups where participants act out the futures they want to experience.  The link to acting, and the distinction between pretence and performance, is fascinating but that’s as far as it goes.  Only the intimate scenes between Emma and Mark (Andrew Sheridan) connect emotionally.

I kept asking myself ‘what’s the point of this play?’  Drug use, rehabilitation, mental health and recovery have been extensively explored in the theatre.  I think in the end the play is looking at the very fine and complex boundary between real life and an artificially enhanced life; but the performances do not draw out this subtlety, and the message seems confused.

For more details the HOME page is here.

photo by Johan Persson

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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