PPT, Credit: Johan Persson, 2017

People, Places & Things
Theatre Royal Bath

Emma – or is it Nina, or even Sarah? – is an actress who is an addict and falling apart, her many roles public and personal taking her on a collision course to destruction.

We first meet her as Nina stumbling her way through a performance of Chekov’s The Seagull, believing she is a seagull, and then she is off stage falling out of a nightclub and into rehab, where she snorts a line in reception to help her on her way.

Lisa Dwyer Hogg plays Emma – we’ll settle for that name – and it is a towering performance, a vivid portrayal of one woman’s entanglement with addiction, treatment and self awareness in Duncan Macmillan’s powerful new play that is directed by Jeremy Herrin.

Emma is combative, disruptive, a real pain in and out of rehab, rejecting the 12-steps treatment, the notion of truth, the group therapy and easily hiding behind the multiple personas she knows so well as an actress.

This play is not an easy watch with its jarring music and flashing lights to mark degrees of detox and disintegration, but at the same time it is compelling and cleverly staged – the set is by Bunny Christie, award-winning designer of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.

Multiple Emmas erupt in and out of the stark white walls as she goes cold turkey, and the addition of several rows of seats on-stage for an audience creates a theatre in the round. We are part of the sacred circle of rehab and witnesses to what takes place in group therapy. It’s powerful.

Emma’s fellow participants in rehab are lesser characters in this drama, their stories not fleshed out, but the ensemble is excellent, the pace never flags, and there are good performances from Trevor Fox as both Paul and Dad, from Andrew Sheridan as Mark and from Ekow Quartey as Foster.

And there are some very funny lines. When Emma questions why she has to say “Amen” at the end of one of the 12-step prayers to a higher power the answer is “It’s like pressing send on an email.”

When she finally makes it through and graduates from rehab – the only course she has ever stuck out – she takes home her shiny bright self-awareness to mum and dad to explain, to apologise, to make amends.

It’s a heartbreaking scene as they sit woodenly on her bed. They have heard it all before. Her mother has even put the box of drink and drugs that Emma asked her to get rid of under the bed. Here comes the first big challenge in the ‘real’ world, facing down the trigger points of people, places and things – and home is the biggest trigger point of them all.

Will Emma get through this? You’ll have to go and see the play to find out. As it ended the opening night audience erupted into cheers and a standing ovation, and especially for Lisa Dwyer Hogg.

People, Places & Things, presented by Headlong, National Theatre, HOME and Exeter Northcott is on its UK tour following a sell-out season in London. It is at the Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 21 October. Call the box office on 01225 448844 or go online at www.theatreroyal.org.uk



Jackie Chappell